Breakthrough Infections and Hospitalizations: How Misleading Vaccination Statistics Can Lure Us into a False Sense of Safety

Updated on November 3, 2021
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By Garick Hismatullin, CEO of Kyla

From the onset and rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, governments, public health bodies, scientists and doctors alike have been playing catch-up when it comes to providing the public with accurate, up-to-date information. This is due to the novel nature of the virus, with each small discovery being announced as they are made and verified. Unfortunately, this disjointed method of disseminating information to a frightened public has resulted in mass confusion, distrust and, in some cases, reckless behavior. 

Thankfully, the accelerated roll-out of the United States’ vaccination program at the beginning of 2021 provided the world with a glimmer of hope. It seemed like vaccinations might be the silver bullet that would end the pandemic as quickly as it began. Then, the Delta variant appeared and began to spread rapidly, infecting both the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. The vaccines were no longer a silver bullet, instead becoming talked about as a tool to reduce serious illness, death and the strain on the US health system. 

Statements like ‘vaccines are 99.99 percent effective at preventing serious infection or death’, and ‘being vaccinated reduces the risk of contracting the virus by 91 percent’ are widespread. It’s important to note, however, that the math used in formulating these percentages is inaccurate, and while more accurate studies have since been released, the inaccurate figures are still dominating the public sphere. Although being vaccinated indeed reduces the risk of hospitalization and death, the results are heavily skewed. This is because, in the widely published statistics, the number of hospitalizations and deaths in vaccinated individuals are calculated against the entire vaccinated population. 

For perspective, the practice of calculating risk by comparing deaths against the entire vaccinated population is akin to calculating the number of people dying from heart disease against the entire population. By doing so, we’re left with data that can’t reliably be used to make public health decisions, which means official bodies won’t be able to provide informed guidance regarding booster shots or other guidelines for high-risk individuals. 

Instead of this loose method of calculation, the hospitalizations and deaths should be calculated against the number of confirmed infections in vaccinated individuals to create an accurate risk profile. Figures published on the CDC website in late August of this year did just that. Through the examination of 43,000 confirmed cases in vaccinated individuals across Los Angeles, it was found that 25.3 percent of cases occurred in vaccinated individuals, 3.3 percent in partially-vaccinated individuals, and 71.4 percent of those in unvaccinated individuals. Further findings proved that vaccines do provide added protection, just not as much as previously reported, with 3.2 percent of vaccinated individuals requiring hospitalization, 0.5 percent being admitted to the ICU, and 0.2 percent requiring the use of a ventilator. 

An article in Politico suggests the widespread dissemination of this inaccurate information is an oversight brought about by the turbulent nature of life since the pandemic first appeared. There’s also the possibility that it’s a tactic to build public confidence to get the economy moving again, or a way to drive more individuals to get vaccinated because of the perceived high level of protection provided. 

While it’s unlikely we’ll ever truly know why this misrepresentation occurred, now that we have accurate data, we can move forward into the fast-approaching holiday season armed with the knowledge to make informed decisions. This might mean vaccinated individuals avoiding holiday events for another year or implementing additional safety guidelines around events – such as holding them outdoors – to maximize safety. The data also means that health institutions can better prepare for an upswing in cases. If the same period in 2020 is anything to go by, another turbulent holiday season is fast approaching. However, seeing that vaccinated individuals effectively have half the risk of developing serious illness, there’s the chance that this year won’t be quite so disastrous. That said, there are still plans vaccinated individuals can put in place to ensure they don’t add to the burden of our already strained health system.

One possible solution for vaccinated individuals is at-home care. Typically, at-home care refers to having a medical professional attend the residence of a patient to provide treatment, monitor symptoms and essentially be present for any possible drastic health events. However, due to the digital transformation of the last two decades, the capabilities of at-home care have completely evolved to no longer require medical professionals on-site. Usable on a smartphone and fuelled by a combination of applications, chat capabilities, labs, imaging and other health-tracking sensors, this type of technology enables patients to connect with a medical doctor, discuss their symptoms, receive a treatment plan, as well as receive continued support and check-ins throughout the recovery process. 

The use of these at-home medical services has the potential to drastically reduce the strain on the health system. This is due to the fact that patients will not only have access to treatment to manage symptoms, but also to professional guidance on when to seek additional care.  

Although we are continually playing catch up in terms of not only accurate statistics around vaccinations but information around COVID-19 and ‘long-COVID’ as a whole, it doesn’t mean that vaccines shouldn’t be trusted. Because experts are constantly learning new information about the virus and vaccines, and are updating the public as the information is learned, it makes sense that the facts change as time goes on. One thing is certain, however, the figures still show being vaccinated greatly reduces the chance of developing serious illness or death. So please, get vaccinated and make a plan in case breakthrough infection occurs; it’s the only way to give our hospitals a chance at surviving what is likely to be a tumultuous end to 2021.

About Garick Hismatullin

Garick founded Action Health in 2013, a network of primary care and urgent care clinics in California. The company has been providing telemedicine and in-person medical care for seven years before Covid-19 hit. Providing medical care to the workforce and having employers as customers, Garick saw a demand for bulk testing in the workplaces as the pandemic took over the US. His new company, Kyla, was launched in 2018 as a primary care company. In March 2020, the business was re-shaped to provide Covid-covered solutions for employers.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.