NJ Unvaccinated are 6 Times More Likely to be Hospitalized for COVID-19 than Vaccinated

SOURCE: Asbury Park Press

New Jerseyans who are unvaccinated are six times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated, the New Jersey Hospital Association said in a report released this week.

Experts said the study is a sign that the vaccine is working as it was intended. But they remain wary that the virus is a threat to the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.

“No matter how much we want to just remove our masks and go back to normal … unfortunately we’re not there yet,” said Dr. Meika Neblett, chief medical officer at Community Medical Center in Toms River. “And for this pandemic to end, we still have to be respectful and act like a community.”

The hospital association released its report as New Jersey tries to keep the highly contagious delta variant under control and head off an outbreak underway in states in the southeast.

Health experts continue to say vaccinations are the best defense against the virus. About 62% of New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, according to a USA TODAY database, the sixth highest rate in the nation.

A look at the Jersey Shore

But vaccination rates are uneven among counties. For example, 56% of Monmouth County residents are fully vaccinated, while 44% of Ocean County residents can say the same, the database shows.

One result: New Jersey has seen its COVID hospitalizations increase from a pandemic low of 267 on July 2 to 1,065 on Sept. 1. 

The report by the New Jersey Hospital Association looked at data provided by the state’s hospitals at the end of August, and it suggests the state’s relatively high vaccination rate is helping.

It found:

  • Some 73.3% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated; 23.7% are fully vaccinated; and 3% are partially vaccinated.
  • Those figures translate to a hospitalization rate of 4.33 per 100,000 for the fully vaccinated and 26.33 per 100,000 for the unvaccinated. It means unvaccinated residents are six times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID.
  • Pediatric cases ticked up from 1.13% in the first three months of 2021 to 1.93% by the end of June.

“We’re so close to turning the corner in this pandemic, but the threats are still out there, so we need to continue to push vaccinations for all,” New Jersey Hospital Association spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly said.

The study shows the vaccine doesn’t provide bulletproof protection, but in most cases it has kept people out of the hospital.

Take, for example, Hackensack Meridian Health, the Edison-based health care network that owns five hospitals in Monmouth and Ocean counties. About 200 employees have contracted COVID-19 recently, but none needed to be hospitalized, likely because 88% of all employees are fully vaccinated, said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive.

Instead the majority of hospitalized COVID patients are younger and unvaccinated, he said.

Varga said he has seen a handful of fully vaccinated patients who typically are older and have other illnesses, raising a concern.

“They’re now nine, 10 months out from their vaccinations,” he said. “We don’t know if this is waning immunity from the vaccine … or the severity that the delta variant creates. It’s probably a combination of both.”

Upping the ante

New Jersey has upped the ante to expand vaccinations, requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to work in the health care industryteach or simply attend a concert.

RWJBarnabas Health to 35,000 NJ staffers:Get vaccinated or get fired

But 2.7 million New Jerseyans remain unvaccinated, the hospital association said.

The risk: They could contract the disease, infect vaccinated residents with a “breakthrough case,” or give the virus room to create a new variant that evades the vaccine, health providers say.

Dr. John Bonamo, chief medical and quality officer for RWJBarnabas Health, has seen COVID hospitalizations increase from 30 in June to about 200 in September, of which 36 are in intensive care.