COVID, Vaccinations and Risk

Vaccine doses received Pfizer, Moderna and JJ). Source Virginia Department of Health.

by James A. Bacon

A new feature of the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard compares the rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. We’ll get to that in just a moment. By way of preface, it’s worth noting that every Virginian who wants the vaccine has it.

The graph above shows the number of vaccines given since December 1. Shots given declined to almost zero in July and early August. As the Delta variant created a new surge in infections, a few hold-outs began getting the jab. At this point in time, about 4.9 million Virginians — about 57% of the population — are described as “fully” vaccinated. That number is not likely to change much, although the classification of “fully” vaccinated could change as vaccinations lose their potency and we are urged to get boosters.

Maybe the numbers that follow will jar some of the hitherto unwilling into thinking differently about the risks they face. The next chart shows the differences in the COVID infection rates broken down by vaccination status: fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated.

Unvaccinated people developed COVID-19 at 13 times the rate of fully vaccinated people and 2.6 times the rate of the partially vaccinated.

I have questioned public health policy that refuses to acknowledge that there are two meaningful categories of unvaccinated people: those who have acquired natural resistance from a past infection and those who have not. However, I would say this: If you fall into the latter category — if you have neither a vaccination nor naturally acquired immunity — you are likely at far greater relative risk than shown above.

A third graph shows the relative risk for hospitalization.

The gap closely tracks that for infections.

This fourth graph shows the gap for deaths:

Whoah! While the risk of death is low compared to infections and hospitalizations, unvaccinated Virginians are at 18.4 times greater risk of dying than the fully vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated is no ironclad guarantee that you won’t get COVID-19, wind up in the hospital and die. Conversely, staying unvaccinated is no guarantee that you will end up a statistic. There aren’t any 100% guarantees in epidemiology. But the odds sure are in your favor if you get the jab.

I look at it like this: We’re all stuck in the “The Deer Hunter” scene when the North Vietnamese compel the Christopher Walken character to play Russian roulette. We didn’t ask to be put in this situation, but we’ve got to live )or die) with the potentially lethal consequences. If I’m forced to play the game, I’d rather have one bullet in the chamber than five.

Still, I get frustrated with limits to the data. There are other major risk factors that could help guide our personal risk calculus. I hear repeatedly that having a universal-donor blood type, O-, makes you significantly at lower risk. I’ve heard that having Vitamin D deficiencies puts you at significantly higher risk. And I think it’s universally acknowledged that obesity is a huge risk factor, especially for hospitalization and death.

That’s where the civil libertarian in me comes into play. If you’ve got naturally acquired immunity, and an O- blood type, plenty of Vitamin D in your system, and you’re not obese, why shouldn’t you be allowed to make a decision based on your own risk profile?

Meanwhile, COVID guru Anthony Fauci says that you can be vaccinated but be just as likely as an unvaccinated person to be an asymptomatic carrier. That explodes the justification for mandating vaccines in order to protect others from the virus. There may be a you’re-not-protecting-yourself-you’re-protecting-others logic for mandating mask wearing, on the grounds that masks do limit the expulsion of the virus from your nose and mouth, but it does not apply to vaccinations.

The science is evolving as we learn more about the virus. Yet the virus itself mutates, potentially scrambling everything we thought to be true about older strains.

Speaking for myself at this particular moment, I’m guided by these odds, as described by the VDH:

As of 8/21/2021, 4,767,990 Virginians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Of these people, 0.2% have developed COVID-19, 0.009% have been hospitalized, and 0.0017% have died.