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In an effort to be more transparent, the Minnesota Department of Health on Friday released new data for how many vaccinated Minnesotans have been hospitalized and died from COVID-19. 

"We've been accused of not being transparent and somehow withholding information. Our goal is to be transparent and that's why we are making these data available," said Kris Ehresmann, MDH infectious diseases director. 

There is a lag time in the data, but through Oct. 3, 2021 the health department has confirmed 64,844 breakthrough infections, 2,956 hospitalizations and 483 deaths. 

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The 483 deaths of vaccinated people represent 5% of the 8,996 COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota since the beginning of the pandemic, and 11.1% of the 4,338 COVID deaths since the first Minnesotan was vaccinated in mid-December.

However, there has been a recent rise in deaths among the vaccinated, who made up 41% of the deaths between Sept. 5 and Oct. 9, and around 30% of the hospitalizations. It was always going to be the case statistically that the number of breakthrough COVID deaths would rise the greater the proportion of Minnesotans got vaccinated, but there have been some concerns that those who got their vaccines early on may be experiencing waning immunity, leading to calls for them to get booster shots.

Ehresmann wants Minnesotans to know that there are numerous factors that lead to breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and death – and none of them mean the vaccines aren't effective.

According to Ehresmann, approximately 97% of vaccinated Minnesotans have not gotten COVID-19. Breakthrough cases can be the result of numerous factors, such as waning immunity, being around unvaccinated people, living in communities with high transmission rates, and lack of masking. 

Bring Me The News reported Friday how since the arrival of the delta variant, the majority of deaths from COVID-19 have come from Greater Minnesota, where vaccination rates are lower compared to the Twin Cities.

The figures from MDH released Friday show that the vast majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota since July are unvaccinated.

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"The fact that our case numbers have really increased... we've used the analogy of the umbrella. An umbrella will keep you dry from the rain, but if you're in a hurricane ... it may not be as effective as keeping you dry," Ehresmann said. 

The state doesn't have hard data to show how many of the 483 deaths related to breakthrough infections were among the more vulnerable Minnesotans who were vaccinated the earliest, and as such may now be experiencing waning immunity.

But Ehresmann said that many of the breakthrough infections are "likely attributable to waning immunity and the very, very high level of transmission and lack of mitigation."

"I think that it's fair to say that we're kind of in a perfect storm moment," she said, noting that the delta variant has "changed the landscape." 

Age-adjusted data from September shows that unvaccinated people aged 65 and older are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 19 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated seniors, according to MDH. 

Waning immunity is most likely to affect Minnesota's most vulnerable populations who were among the first to be vaccinated in late 2020 and early 2021. That's why health officials are urging Minnesotans who are eligible to get the booster shot as soon as they can. 

Waning immunity should also not be mistaken as no immunity, with the vaccines still highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

Ehresmann made it a point to say that even though there has been an increasing level of cases in long-term care facilities, whose residents were among the first to be vaccinated, "we are not seeing the same level of deaths that we saw before." 

Even if you're vaccinated, the CDC is recommending masking indoors in public places because, as Ehresmann said, "Minnesota is not in a good place with our case numbers."

Here is the specific wording about breakthrough infections from the Minnesota Department of Health website. 

Vaccine breakthrough cases (VBT) represent the small portion of cases among people who belong to both the group of people who are COVID-19 cases and the group of people who are fully vaccinated. When we consider the proportion of COVID-19 cases that are VBT, we are not including any information about the larger populations of fully vaccinated or not fully vaccinated people in Minnesota.

  • There are differences in the population of people who are fully vaccinated and the population of people who are not fully vaccinated. For example, the vaccinated population in Minnesota is older, more likely to have comorbidities, and more likely to work in high-risk settings.
    • This means more people in the fully vaccinated population are at increased risk of developing, becoming hospitalized, or dying from COVID-19.
    • Because the populations are different, you would have to make adjustments in order to directly compare them.
    • The charts below do not include these adjustments so this comparison of fully vaccinated and not fully vaccinated cases, hospitalizations, and deaths should not be used as a measure of how well the vaccine works.

Vaccine breakthrough data will be updated every Monday and can be found here

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