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Carroll County Times
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Tom Zirpoli: Research shows power of COVID vaccines, boosters | COMMENTARY

Studies from around the world are demonstrating the power of COVID-19 vaccinations in preventing severe illness and deaths. Booster shots were also found to provide “remarkably high” protection from severe illness, according to Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research after reviewing the data. Studies within the U.S. show the same outcomes: Vaccines, regardless of brand (Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, or Pfizer) are saving lives and reducing severe illness and hospitalizations.

A review of data through November 2021, in Chile, England, Switzerland, and the United States was provided by Edouard Mathieu and Max Roser of Our World in Data. In two of the countries, Chile and Switzerland, they compared the death rates among three groups: unvaccinated people, fully vaccinated people, and people who were fully vaccinated with a booster dose. In England and the United States, they compared two groups: Unvaccinated and fully vaccinated.

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In the studies, a death rate was calculated by looking at the number of people who died from COVID-19 divided by the number of people in each group and then presented per 100,000 people.

In Chile, where the vaccination rate is 87.4% the unvaccinated death rate was 3.26 per 100,000 compared to .63 among the fully vaccinated and .13 among those who were fully vaccinated with a booster dose. In Switzerland, where the vaccination rate is 67.6%, the unvaccinated death rate was 13.06 per 100,000 compared to 1.44 for the fully vaccinated and .27 for those who were fully vaccinated with a booster dose.

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For England, with a vaccination rate of 71.2%, and the United States, with a vaccination rate of 62.5%, death rates were compared among the unvaccinated and the fully vaccinated (no booster dose). Among the unvaccinated in England, the death rate was 23.80 per 100,000 compared to 5.20 for the vaccinated. In the U.S., the death rate for the unvaccinated was 3.47 per 100,000 compared to .54 for the vaccinated.

The U.S. data was also broken up by vaccine brand for those who were fully vaccinated. The death rate among those who had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was .72 per 100,000 cases. For those who had the Moderna, it was .62, and for those who had the Pfizer, it was .48.

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Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also demonstrated the power of a booster dose. “Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization with the Omicron variant fell to just 57 percent in people who had received their second dose more than six months earlier” and “a third shot (booster) restored that protection to 90 percent” according to Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times.

Lastly, the CDC found that age is an important variable when looking at the power of vaccines and booster shots. In its report, the CDC found that people age 65 or older and unvaccinated were 49 times more likely to require hospitalization if infected than same-age peers who were vaccinated and had received a booster shot. Even younger unvaccinated people between the ages of 50 and 64 years were found to be 44 times more likely to be hospitalized if infected compared to their boosted peers.

What about infection-induced immunity? Does “natural immunity” from a previous infection protect people from serious disease and death? So far, the answer appears to be yes, but researchers are quick to add that studies with the omicron infection are continuing. Dr. Eli Rosenberg, New York deputy director for Science, said, “The totality of the evidence suggests that both vaccination and having survived COVID-19 each provide protection against subsequent reinfection, infection, and hospitalization. Having COVID-19 the first time carries with it significant risks,” that getting the vaccine does not. Thus, “becoming vaccinated and staying up-to-date with boosters really is the only safe choice for preventing COVID-19 infection and severe disease,” said Rosenberg.

Last week we learned about Hanka Horka, the Czech folk singer who decided to get infected with COVID instead of getting vaccinated in order to earn a “Recently Recovered” pass for social events. Instead, the virus killed her.

Maggie Koerth, writing for FiveThirtyEight.com, looked at studies comparing natural infection-induced immunity with vaccine-induced immunity and found that they were “pretty similar.” She cited a study from England “in which a few hundred thousand participants were followed in a large-scale longitudinal survey.” The researchers found that “having had two doses of the vaccine (regardless of the type) reduced the risk of testing positive by 79 percent while being unvaccinated and having had a previous infection reduced the risk by 65 percent.” Koerth warns, however, that “both kinds of immunity seem to wane over time” and “vaccine-induced immunity is a better choice … because it enables you to get the immunity without the side effects and risks that come along with the illness.”

As Dr. Mark Olszyk, chief medical officer for Carroll Hospital, said: “I don’t recall a single person hospitalized at Carroll as a result of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.” Obviously, the same can’t be said for those infected, especially among the unvaccinated.

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Tom Zirpoli is a professor and the program director for the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster and his column appears Wednesdays. Email him tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.


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