ROCHESTER, Minn. -- An updating of the latest state data on breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Minnesota shows that being fully vaccinated reduces residents' likelihood of infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

The new analysis shows that those who are unvaccinated in the state are 15 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, and 30 times more likely to die of the illness than are those who are fully vaccinated.

"This really does show once again that the current rate of COVID infection is concentrated heavily among people who are not fully vaccinated," said state Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm during an afternoon call with the media on Wednesday, Oct. 20.

"That applies for all age groups," she added. "Not just older Minnesotans."

On its health department website, the state has now stratified Minnesota's extensive breakthrough data by age groups and over time, events that can be sorted to reflect the likelihood of infection, hospitalization and death among those who are vaccinated.

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Owing to demands of case investigations, the state's latest breakthrough data takes longer to post than other data, and now calculates risks as of one month ago.

"These additions provide another way to look at vaccine data," Malcolm said, "and to quantify that the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Minnesota are in those who are not fully vaccinated."

Malcolm prefaced the news by stating that it is normal with any vaccine to see a percentage of the vaccinated that will still get sick in spite of being vaccinated, an event which is classified as a breakthrough case.

For the state, breakthrough cases include all those who test positive for COVID-19 at a point 14 or more days after receiving their final dose. State data show almost 46,000 breakthrough cases among Minnesotans so far.

Though that's tens of thousands of state residents, placed within the context of nearly 3.2 million Minnesotans vaccinated, those 46,000 breakthrough cases come out to just 1.4% of all who have received both shots.

The protectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines becomes even more pronounced when considering the latest state data on breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths as a percent of those vaccinated.

Of the state's 3.2 million residents vaccinated, nearly 2,200 or just .07% of all who are fully vaccinated were hospitalized, while 263 or just .008% of those who are fully vaccinated died of the virus.

Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota reports its number of breakthrough cases as a percentage of the total number of fully vaccinated Minnesotans, and not, as some would expect, as a percentage of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Were the state to track breakthrough cases as a percentage of all cases, the ratio for breakthrough cases would grow higher with the passage of time. But as statisticians have pointed out, that would occur only in reflection of the rising numbers of those who have become vaccinated.

“If you’re trying to decide on getting vaccinated," as one statistician recently put it in The Atlantic, "you don’t want to look at the percentage of sick people who were vaccinated, you want to look at the percentage of people who were vaccinated and got sick.”

"I think people sometimes want to look at that," said Kathy Como-Sabetti, manager of the COVID-19 Epidemiology Section at the Minnesota Department of Health. "'What is the proportion of our positive cases that are vaccinated and not fully vaccinated?'

"But the issue becomes that the proportion will increase as you have a larger group of people who are fully vaccinated, which is a good thing."

"It's not to say those are bad data, it's just that they can be misunderstood in showing a decrease in vaccine effectiveness, rather than an increase in the population that is vaccinated."

"There is a great video on the department of health web page that really explains how, as you increase the proportion of the population that is vaccinated, you can misinterpret that an increase in vaccine breakthrough means a decrease in vaccine efficacy, when it really means an increase in that (number who are vaccinated)."

New testing sites launched

Also on Wednesday, the state announced it was launching new COVID-19 community rapid testing sites in Stillwater, Crookston, and Hutchinson.

The site in Stillwater opened Wednesday, Oct. 20, while the sites in Crookston and Hutchinson will open on Thursday, Oct. 21.

Officials say rapid testing sites will also launch next week in Inver Grove Heights, Wadena, Hibbing, and Albert Lea to serve Minnesotans in the community. The sites are being supported by the Minnesota National Guard.

While walk-ins are welcome, people seeking testing at state sites can schedule a test as well. Rapid test results will be available within approximately 1-3 hours of processing.

  • Crookston Rapid Testing Site: Crookston Armory, 1801 University Ave., Crookston, MN 56716. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday; opens Thursday Oct. 21.
  • Hutchinson Rapid Testing Site: Hutchinson Armory, 1200 Adams St. SE, Hutchinson, MN 55350. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday; opens Thursday, Oct. 21.
  • Stillwater Rapid Testing Site: Stillwater Armory, 350 Maryknoll Drive N., Stillwater, MN 55082. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday (except Dec. 4).