The past few months have seen a significant rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among the fully vaccinated portion of the Pennsylvania populace.
And, the data at best are five weeks old.
The most recent sign of the trend is the latest Tower Health update, which showed on Tuesday that eight of the 11 patients were considered fully vaccinated.
That criteria is the two-dose course of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson product. But, the fully vaccinated moniker sticks no matter how long it has been since the latest shot, and vaccinations have slowed to a trickle.
“The Department of Health recommends that everyone who is eligible for vaccines to get up to date (for most people 12+ that means fully vaccinated and boosted), with their vaccine regimen to protect themselves from COVID-19 and its multiple variants,” said Mark O’ Neill, press secretary for the agency in an emailed statement, adding the bold . “While the effectiveness of vaccines may wane over time, booster shots have been and continue to be widely available to provide additional protection for people across the state and the nation.”
The increasing numbers of people whose vaccination protection has waned comes amid the second omicron wave, spawned by the derivatives of the original omicron that swept through the population in a matter of weeks at the start of 2022.
The derivatives have been demonstrated to be less likely to cause hospitalization and death.
As overall cases declined through February and into April, the percentage of the cases among the vaccinated began to increase. The baseline had been in the 20% to 25% range but:
• 56% of cases for the 35 days ending April 11.
• 37% of the hospitalizations for the same period.
• 47% of the deaths in February.
It’s unclear why the death data isn’t more up to date.
In Berks County nearly 2 in 3 residents are considered fully vaccinated but the vaccination statistics have been dominated for the past five weeks by the category of second boosters and fourth doses for the immunocompromised.
Before that, going back to October, boosters and third shots were given the most. However, the height of the omicron surge saw a rush of first and second shots.
Many of those people would be booster candidates now.
“The reality is that across the United States there are a lot of people who are eligible to receive a booster shot, but have not received one yet,” O’Neill said. “The department continues to strongly urge everyone who qualifies for a booster shot to get one as soon as possible. As the department has repeatedly stated over the past few months, the pandemic is not over, and families should utilize all resources available to protect themselves, including getting up to date with their vaccines.”
Plus, people who die of any cause are not purged from the vaccination rolls. It’s unclear how big a number that has become in 18 months of vaccinations.
Berks weekly update
The upward trend of COVID cases continued for the sixth week in Berks County and across Pennsylvania in the most recent Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
It was the biggest weekly increase yet in the second omicron surge across Pa., with the state now averaging about 3,000 cases daily.
Berks remains well below the state averages in key metrics, however, with the state surge being driven in some counties that previously had been relatively safe havens.
Berks saw a nearly 50% jump in the infection rate to of 77.4 cases per 100,000 of the population and a positivity rate of 10.8%, up more than 2 points in a week. The population is 429,000.
The overall state numbers are 128.9 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 13.9%.
Adjoining counties that had previously performed well in the pandemic but are running warm are:
• Chester: 143.6 cases per 100,000 and 15.4%.
• Montgomery: 175.2 per 100,000 and 17.4%.
Chester has about 100,000 more residents than Berks and Montgomery has nearly double the population. Both were like Berks is now for most of the past year: below the state averages.
Another county in the region contributing to the state numbers is Luzerne at 215.2 and 18.2%, respectively.
Some of the statistics in this second omicron surge would have alarmed state health officials in phases of the pandemic period. The pandemic hasn’t been officially declared over.
Pennsylvania dropped daily updates on May 4 and went to weekly updates of its main COVID dashboard and monthly press releases about cases, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
The most recent vaccination totals for Berks include:
• 246,490: Completed two-dose Pfizer or Moderna treatment.
• 113,855: Had at least one booster dose or extra shot for the immunocompromised.
• 11.650: Received a second booster or another extra dose for the immunocompromised.
The count of COVID deaths of Berks residents is 1,595, with COVID deaths recorded in Berks at 1,455.
Hundreds of Berks residents have died outside the county and a lesser number of nonresidents have died in Berks. The exact numbers are no longer tracked.
The national picture
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the third omicron derivative, known as BA.2.12.2, continued to gain ground. It has been blamed for at least part of the mild surge in cases.
Nationally it’s at 46.2% but in the mid-Atlantic at 48.1%.
The second derivative of omicron, BA.2, remains dominant at 56.4% nationally and 51.3% in the mid-Atlantic.
The original omicron and its first derivative have nearly been squeezed out of existence.
Nationally, the seven-day case average has more than tripled since bottoming out after the initial omicron blitz, according to the CDC.
The latest seven-day average is 87,382 cases, according to the CDC. The 2022 low point in the seven-day average was 24.843 on March 29.
The current seven-day average is still less than 11% of the same average at the height of the omicron surge.
The unknown component continues to be the number of people testing at home who are not reporting the results.