A vast majority of Texans who have died of covid-19 since the beginning of the year were unvaccinated, according to a grim new Texas health department report released Monday.
Of the nearly 29,000 covid-linked fatalities in Texas during that period, more than 85 percent were of unvaccinated individuals. Nearly 7 percent of the deaths were among partially vaccinated people, while nearly 8 percent were fully vaccinated.
The figures highlight just how much more at risk the unvaccinated population has been this year: In all age groups, the state’s unvaccinated were 40 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated people. The study also found that the unvaccinated in all age groups were 45 times more likely to have a coronavirus infection than fully vaccinated people. It also looked closely at data from September and underlined the impact of the highly contagious delta variant, which fueled a surge in Texas, as it did in much of the country.
The report from Texas health officials underscores the risk that cases and death counts would spike among the unvaccinated, echoing the alarms that public health officials have been sounding throughout the year. The report, which Texas health officials say is the first statistical assessment of the real-world effect there of vaccination against the coronavirus, also highlights the impact in a state where Republican leaders have sharpened attacks on public health strategies throughout the pandemic. Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) banned any entity in the state from mandating vaccines for workers or customers.
“This analysis quantifies what we’ve known for months,” Jennifer A. Shuford, the state’s chief epidemiologist, said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccines are doing an excellent job of protecting people from getting sick and from dying from COVID-19. Vaccination remains the best way to keep yourself and the people close to you safe from this deadly disease.”
Shuford’s remarks echo statements from other health leaders, including Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has described the nation’s ordeal as “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
While Texas is still averaging more than 3,200 new daily infections and almost 110 deaths a day, the state, like the nation overall, has seen case and death totals fall, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.
Nearly 54 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, trailing the national vaccination rate of 58.4 percent.
The state data “shows what we already knew — that the unvaccinated are increasing their risk of severe covid disease and death, and we have the data now to prove this,” said Bhavna Lall, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Medicine.
She said she’s troubled by leaders questioning public health mitigation measures and vaccination mandates, particularly in a state that’s had more than 70,000 deaths since the pandemic’s start — one of the highest total death counts in the country.
“By debating mitigation measures, we’re not helping in any way,” she said. “We know what works for decreasing the spread of covid. We know that vaccination works, we know masking works.”
Recent findings from the CDC similarly highlighted risks for the unvaccinated. A CDC study published in September found that people who were not fully vaccinated in the spring and summer were more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die of covid-19 than people who were fully vaccinated.
The new report from Texas also breaks out findings from the weeks between Sept. 4 and Oct. 1, which the health department said researchers wanted to analyze to measure the vaccine’s effectiveness as the delta variant surged in the state.
In that time frame, unvaccinated people were 20 times more likely to experience a covid-associated death than fully vaccinated people, and were 13 times more likely to become infected with the virus than the fully vaccinated.
The Texas data strengthens scientists’ assertions “that vaccines work,” said Rama Thyagarajan, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School.
She noted that the small percentage of fully vaccinated Texans who died probably were “the oldest and sickest of the group.”
The report said 35 percent of deaths were among people 75 years and older, and 25 percent were among those 65 to 74.
While the vaccination against the coronavirus had a strong protective effect for all people, the report notes, the findings varied by age on the protective impact for covid-related deaths. Unvaccinated people in their 40s were 55 times more likely to die of covid-19 in September than fully vaccinated people of the same age. For people age 75 and older, the unvaccinated were 12 times more likely to die than the vaccinated in that time frame.
The report also highlighted the severity of the impact of the delta variant overall. Regardless of vaccination status, the report says, Texans were four to five times more likely to become infected with the coronavirus or to suffer a covid-linked death in August, when the variant was prevalent in the state, than in April, before its presence was widespread.
Lall said it was “sad to see that during the time when delta was surging, we had so many people … dying because they just didn’t get the vaccine.”
She said the latest report from Texas, which shows the protection offered by vaccination, underlines the need to encourage not only more vaccinations but public health measures that can help stop the virus from surging.
“We need to be aware that other parts of the world are surging — Europe has high covid cases right now — and if we don’t get more people vaccinated in America, we’re still at risk,” she said, adding: “No one wants to go through these surges again and again.”