A timely booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine protects Minnesotans from serious illness and death, even as new strains of the virus emerge, according to new data released Monday by the Department of Health.
Success data from the past 60 days shows that people 65 and older benefit the most. Among seniors who get COVID-19, those without vaccinations are more than four times more likely to die and need hospital care nearly five times more than their increased number of peers.
Receiving early shots of the vaccine without a booster offers some protection, but as the coronavirus tends to mutate into new strains, the initial protection is not as strong as it was when vaccination began in December 2020. The latest data has been provided by state health officials for the first time. Specific information shows increased protection from additional COVID-19 shots.
“We’re still seeing substantial gains with boosters in the 65 and up category,” said Stephanie Meyer, an epidemiological supervisor at the Department of Health. But she noted that there were still a lot of questions about how the timing of booster shots and different coronavirus variants affect vaccine protection.
Variations of the Omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, have dominated Minnesota infections since mid-December. The latest breakthrough data shows that different omicron variants are having better success in transmitting vaccines and are more likely to cause severe disease than some of the previous strains.
However, other factors are also at play, particularly patients’ underlying health conditions that may put them at higher risk. In recent months, Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths have again become concentrated among older residents who have other medical conditions.
“The comorbidity piece is something that we cannot account for in these figures. It’s a really important factor,” said senior epidemiologist Kelly Morris. She noted that federal data continue to show that vaccines provide protection to people who are at high risk because of other health conditions.
Morris also said that as more people are vaccinated, the share of new cases that affect people who are vaccinated is expected to climb. About 67 percent of the state’s 5.7 million residents have received their initial dose of the vaccine, but only about 46 percent are up-to-date on their shots.
Meyer and Morris said state health officials continue to study success cases and the effects of vaccines and the timing of boosters.
level off cases
There was some evidence released Monday that Minnesota’s latest spike in cases driven by four different Omicron sub-versions may have stalled. The 2,152 new cases reported week-on-week is a drop of nearly 11 percent since last Friday.
However, case counts present an increasingly limited view of the state’s outbreak as more people test at home and those results are not reported to the state. Health officials look more closely at hospitalization data and the spread of coronavirus genetic material in the wastewater.
And last week, the Metropolitan Council reported a 58 percent increase in coronavirus DNA in Twin Cities sewage. The data was from the week ending May 16 and suggests that the cases may rise.
Hospitalizations and death rates have increased in recent weeks, but are much lower than the state’s previous big winter surge.
There are 422 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, including 36 in intensive care. Severe cases have remained relatively flat as overall hospitalizations have fluctuated.
Another nine COVID-19 deaths were also recorded on Monday. Their ages ranged from their 60s to their 90s, with six living in private homes and three in long-term care.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, 12,596 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19. About 82 percent were seniors and about 46 percent were long-term care residents.