Vaccines work. Before we move on to some caveats, let’s start with that.
A growing body of global data shows that leading COVID-19 vaccines significantly reduce your risk of falling seriously ill or dying if you wind up infected with the coronavirus.
That’s particularly the case when they’re used alongside other public health measures to prevent infections from happening in the first place — and even when faced with the hyper-contagious delta variant.
They don’t work perfectly, of course — and we’ll get to that in a bit — but really, really well.
The latest Canadian data released on Friday shows that from late July to late August — while the more-contagious delta variant was circulating widely — unvaccinated individuals were 36 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated.
South of the border, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention featuring data from early April to mid-July showed that people who were not fully vaccinated were at least 10 times more likely to be hospitalized or die of COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated.
And in the U.K., the latest public health report shows that both the vaccinated and unvaccinated are getting infected — and infection rates in certain age groups are even higher among fully vaccinated individuals.
But when it comes to the COVID-19 death toll, that’s where things noticeably shift: Unvaccinated individuals had a significantly higher risk of dying after being infected with the virus than vaccinated individuals across every age category.
“It’s much harder right now, I think, to try and say that vaccines don’t work,” said Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor in medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
“So unless you’re basically kicking your feet and stomping really loudly, your message is going to get drowned out pretty quick just by the data we’re seeing on a daily basis.”
What vaccines do — and what they don’t
But there is plenty of foot-stomping from some — and quiet concern from others — as reports of vaccines seemingly not working tend to dominate the headlines, be it debates over booster shots to combat the possibility of waning immunity or reports of post-vaccination infections.
Even the sky-high efficacy rates of mRNA vaccines during clinical trials left a little window of imperfection — and those trials happened long before this virus evolved to replicate quicker, spread faster and infect even more unsuspecting human hosts.
ANALYSISWhy it’s now more likely you’ll face coronavirus — even if you’re vaccinated against COVID-19
It’s helpful to remember that in day-to-day life, there’s no magic way to avoid getting infected, save for locking yourself in a bunker. Layering protections such as masks and physical distancing seems to help, but as one vaccine expert told this reporter previously, it’s worth noting that a vaccine doesn’t provide that same kind of physical barrier to prevent someone from coughing or sneezing your way.
In other words, under the right circumstances — whether you’re vaccinated or not — SARS-CoV-2 might find its way inside your body.
It’s what happens next that’s key.
The people that are, relatively speaking, most at risk of having something bad happen after a breakthrough infection are the same people that are at highest risk of having something bad happen for any infection and for COVID-19,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Bhattacharya says that includes people who are immunosuppressed or those who are being treated for autoimmune disorders or certain types of cancer.
“Those are the kinds of things that would put you at pretty high risk of not responding that well to the vaccine,” he said. “And as a result, being at high risk of severe disease.”