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Boosters still protect against coronavirus variants, new Minnesota health data shows

Unvaccinated seniors are about four times as likely to die and five times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to vaccinated and boosted peers, the data shows

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Timely booster doses of coronavirus vaccine continue to protect Minnesotans from severe illness and death, even as new strains of the virus emerge, according to new data released Monday by the Department of Health.

People 65 and older benefit the most, breakthrough data from the last 60 days shows. Among seniors who got COVID-19, the unvaccinated have been more than four times as likely to die and nearly five times as likely to need hospital care compared to their boosted peers.

Getting the initial shots of vaccine without boosters provides some protection, but as the coronavirus mutates into new strains, that initial protection is not as strong as it was when vaccination began in December 2020. The latest data is the first time state health officials have provided specific information showing the increased protection from additional COVID-19 shots.

“We are still seeing a substantial benefit in the 65 and up category with boosters,” said Stephanie Meyer, epidemiologist supervisor at the health department. But she noted there were still a lot of questions about how the timing of booster shots and different coronavirus variants impacts 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 the various omicron variants are having better success infecting the vaccinated and are more likely to cause severe disease than some of the previous strains.

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However, other factors also are at play, most notably patients’ underlying health conditions that may put them at higher risk. In recent months, Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths again have been concentrated among older residents who tend to have other medical conditions.

“The comorbidity piece is something we cannot account for in these data. It is a really important factor,” said Keely Morris, senior epidemiologist. She noted that federal data continues to show vaccines offer protection to people who are high-risk because of other health conditions.

Morris also added that as more people get vaccinated, the share of new cases that affect vaccinated people is expected to climb. About 67 percent of the state’s 5.7 million residents have gotten their initial doses of vaccine, but only about 46 percent are up-to-date on their shots.

Meyer and Morris said state health officials continue to study breakthrough cases and the impact of vaccines and the timing of boosters.

Cases level off

There was some evidence released Monday that Minnesota’s latest spike in cases, driven by four different omicron sub-variants, may have stalled. The 2,152 new cases reported from last Friday is a week-over-week decline of about 11 percent.

However, case counts offer an increasingly limited view of the state’s outbreak because more people test at home and those results are not reported to the state. Health officials more closely watch hospitalization data and the prevalence of coronavirus genetic material in 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 cases could continue to rise.

Rates of hospitalization and death have ticked up in recent weeks but remain much lower than the state’s last big winter surge.

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There are 422 patients hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, including 36 in intensive care. Critical cases have remained relatively flat as overall hospitalizations have fluctuated.

Another nine COVID-19 deaths also were reported Monday. They ranged in age from their early 60s to their 90s with six residing in private homes and three in long-term care.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, 12,596 Minnesotans are known to have died from COVID-19. About 82 percent were seniors and about 46 percent residents of long-term care.

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

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