Albany

State study examines vaccines’ loss of effectiveness as pandemic worsens upstate

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ALBANY — Fifty weeks after the first COVID vaccine was administered in New York state, the metrics used to measure the pandemic are strikingly similar: A similar percentage of COVID tests are coming back positive and nearly the same number of people are getting infected each day now as at the end of November 2020.

One metric that has improved is hospitalization — 3,022 New Yorkers were hospitalized with COVID on Tuesday, compared with 3,774 on Nov. 30, 2020.

That’s for the state as a whole. Upstate is faring worse or much worse than a year ago, but it is counterbalanced statistically by the huge population of New York City, where COVID is at a lull.

The worsening statistics come even though two-thirds of New Yorkers are now fully vaccinated against COVID, compared with zero a year ago.

A New York state Department of Health study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine quantifies what is happening.

The study’s authors reviewed the history of 6.6 million New Yorkers vaccinated against COVID in the first four months of 2021, plus 2 million unvaccinated New Yorkers. 

The study found that all three COVID vaccines authorized for use in the United States lost some of their effectiveness at preventing infection by the end of August 2021, possibly due to the rise of the delta COVID variant and the decline of masking and other protective measures by the populace.

The study also found that all three vaccines saw little reduction in ability to protect their recipients from infection serious enough to require hospitalization.

Depending on the brand of vaccine, date administered, and age of recipient, effectiveness against infection ranged as high as 97.7% on May 1 and as low as 63.4% on Aug. 28, the study found.

The effectiveness against hospitalization remained in the mid-90% range throughout the period, except for those 65 and older, who saw effectiveness dip into the mid-80% range in some cases.

The COVID pandemic has been deadliest for older people: More than 65% of New Yorkers killed by the virus have been 70 or older, and more than 85% have been 60 or older.

Those age 55 or older also are the most heavily vaccinated age demographic in New York.

BY THE NUMBERS

Of three common metrics that measure the pandemic’s severity, number of new infections is considered a better indicator than positive test rate and number of hospitalizations is better than both, the state Department of Health has said.

Here are the statewide COVID data for Nov. 30, 2020, and Nov. 30, 2021:

  • Total patients hospitalized with COVID: 3,774 (2020), 3,022 (2021)
  • COVID patients in intensive care unit: 718, 586
  • Infection rate per 100,000 population: 34.9, 34.0
  • Seven-day positive COVID test rate: 4.0%, 4.4%
  • Percentage of residents fully vaccinated: 0%, 66.5%

The percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the eight-county Capital Region is nearly identical to the state as a whole. But the Capital Region is faring much worse than the state as a whole on the latest COVID metrics, and the region’s 2021 metrics are much worse than its 2020 metrics:

  • Total patients hospitalized with COVID: 199 (2020), 291 (2021)
  • COVID patients in intensive care unit: 33, 56
  • Infection rate per 100,000 population: 36.1, 45.3
  • Seven-day positive COVID test rate: 3.5%, 8.1%
  • Percentage of residents fully vaccinated: 0%, 66.6%

The statewide death toll stood at 26,816 on Nov. 30, 2020; it hit 46,574 on Nov. 30, 2021, using the same incomplete count as then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo was using last year but stood at 59,280 using the more inclusive count that Kathy Hochul began publishing after she took over as governor.

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