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Byron Shire
October 16, 2021

Why are there so many vaccinated people in hospital?

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Patient in hospital with COVID-19. Photo Pordee Aomboom/Shutterstock

It may be confronting to hear there are more vaccinated people than unvaccinated people in hospital – but it’s actually a good thing.

Right now, it looks like there has been an increase in the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 – even though they’re fully vaccinated.

This is particularly evident in Israel, where there are more vaccinated than unvaccinated people in hospital.

The bottom line is that no vaccine is 100 per cent perfect. You can still get sick and there is a chance you’ll still need hospital care – in spite of being vaccinated.

Why would that be so?

It all comes down to the size of the vaccinated population.

Imagine this scenario

To understand why this happens, we need to look at vaccine efficacy within the whole population, not just the people in hospital.

We know that COVID-19 vaccines reduce your chances of serious illness by around 80 per cent.

In trials, 80 per cent vaccine efficacy means that 80 per cent of people who contracted COVID-19 were unvaccinated, and 20 per cent were vaccinated.

Say we looked at a population of 100 people, 50 vaccinated and 50 unvaccinated. Of these, 40 people had COVID-19.

If we look at the ratios in this hypothetical example, we see that 8/40 infected people are vaccinated and 32/40 are unvaccinated. It’s clear to see that the vaccinated people fared better – in fact, that would be a vaccine efficacy of 80 per cent (1–8/40 = 80 per cent).

A population with 50 per cent vaccine coverage

Image Cosmos Magazine

However, the ratios change as vaccination rates increase – they are no longer even.

Say, instead, that there are 80 vaccinated people of our hypothetical population of 100 and only 20 unvaccinated. In this scenario, there are 29 people with COVID-19.

Let’s zoom in – We see that 16/29 people are vaccinated, but only 13 are unvaccinated. It seems like more vaccinated people are ending up with the virus, but that number is out of context.

A population with 80 per cent vaccine coverage

Image Cosmos Magazine

Instead, we can see that the overall rate of incidence has dropped from 40 to 29 as the vaccinated population reaches 80 per cent.

It also means that the percentage of vaccinated sick people (16/80 = 20 per cent) is much lower than the percentage of unvaccinated sick people (13/20 = 65 per cent).

This is the same principle that occurs as Australia’s vaccinated population increases. With higher vaccination rates, the ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated people in hospital will become closer, but the rate of seriously ill people in the whole population will decrease.

People who wear seatbelts still die

We can see the above scenario playing out in many different situations. It all comes down to the number of people following a protocol. For example, seat belts are compulsory in Australia, so most people in car accidents are wearing a seatbelt. People that wear seat belts still get in car accidents, but fewer die.

In 1970, the year before seat belts became compulsory across Australia, 3,798 people died in car accidents. In 2019, only 1,195 people died in car accidents.

Read more: What does 80% vaccination coverage mean?

If you look at the people now in hospital as a result of car accidents, you’ll find that most were wearing a seat belt.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother with a seat belt, because if you do end up in a car accident, you’re more still 10 times more likely to die if you’re not wearing a seatbelt than if you are.

The same goes with vaccines. The data is still clear: vaccines dramatically lower your risk of severe disease, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19.

You might also like:

This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Deborah Devis. Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.

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  1. NSW Health director of health protection Jeremy McAnulty misspoke when initially detailing the vaccination status of people in hospital. Dr McAnulty later corrected the record during the same press conference, identifying that everyone in intensive care units (ICUs) in the state due to COVID-19 was unvaccinated – except for one individual who was partially vaccinated.

    • So now Cosmos (the Echo’s new friend) says “it’s actually good thing” that there are more vaccinated people than unvaccinated people in hospital.

      A “good thing”, think about that statement for a minute. Nothing about this virus is good.

      The spin on the jabs, and the fact they do not stop transmission, knows no bounds.

      Fear, ignorance and division will be the undoing of our once cohesive communities (not the virus) if serious, open public debate and balanced reporting is not re-instated.

      That will be very difficult while “Emergency” powers give Government free rein to do whatever they choose, with zero oversight. And main-stream media enjoy a revival of income and relevance (they have always peddled fear, but were losing cash big time prior to C-19).

      Facts matter and with a 99% chance of survival from Covid and all it’s variants for the majority of us, Who is inciting the fear and division for such low death rates and why?

      • A 1% death rate might sound too low to bother about, yet if 50% of our local population of 300.000 happen to get the illness, 150.000 people, then 1% of them dying accounts for 1500 Northern Rivers Residents. Add to that the 5% ICU admission rate (for unvaccinated adults) and you have another 7500 residents fighting for their lives for weeks, putting incredible strain on our already underfunded and overstretched health system – if indeed they could be accommodated.
        Something worth fearing – or fear mongering by the medico-industrial complex, trying to profit from panic?

        • I also wonder about this oft quoted 99% survival rate – is it death to case ratio? If so I’d question how accurately, in developed countries, the death to case ratio can be ascertained without it being influenced by their significant vaccination rates.

    • Oh Garry, it’s just a straight indisputable lesson in statistics and thus mathematics – no spin, faith or mumbo jumbo involved. If 100% of the population is vaccinated then 100% of those hospitalised will be vaccinated. If 100% is unvaccinated, 100% of those hospitalised will be unvaccinated. Make sense? Then there are the permutations in between.

      Your comment says so much.

      • Liz, this article is based on faulty assumptions, and your supercilious reply to Garry is a little embarrassing. “We know that COVID-19 vaccines reduce your chances of serious illness by around 80 per cent”. This is misleading. If you follow the link there, it is to another magazine article citing a preprint paper that in itself is not free from bias and does not take into account the efficacy against variants. The rest of the hypothetical argument that follows in this article is therefore also very questionable. And comparing getting the virus while unvaccinated to being in a motor vehicle accident without wearing a seat belt… pretty shameful “journalism” really. Before you criticize the opinions of others, look a bit deeper as opposed to blindly believing the first thing you read.

        • “Before you criticize the opinions of others, look a bit deeper as opposed to blindly believing the first thing you read.”

          Oh thanks for the tip, MPharm. The bit about 80% reduction of serious illness is there I imagine because we are talking about hospitalisations in Israel. You’re right that it’s a bit dodgy as I’m sure it’s considered to be closer to 90%.

          The bottom line is, to illustrate the maths the scenario offered is not about protection from serious disease (the bit you object to) but protection from infection and the 80% used is clearly hypothetical – “Imagine this scenario”

          There is no “hypothetical argument that follows” – it’s a maths lesson! As for “ blindly believing the first thing I read”, I’ll readily admit I find a truth, logic and beauty in mathematics.

          Neither is the seat belt stuff an attempt to make an analogy between wearing a seatbelt and getting vaccinated it’s just another example of interpreting statistics

          It tells us we are looking at a scenario and starts with a definition: “In trials, 80 per cent vaccine efficacy MEANS that 80 per cent of people who contracted COVID-19 were unvaccinated, and 20 per cent were vaccinated.”

          There is no premise here on which the rest of the explanation falls down because the rest is just a mathematical explanation. Bottom line is it’s

          • I must remember to never split an infinitive and to always carefully pruffread b4 I press “post Comment”.

            It’s often hard though when it appears in a small box!

  2. OMG those disputing this Echo article on the mathematics of ‘ who is in hospital vaccinated & who isn’t vaccinated’ & thus those percentages ,simply didn’t listen in science classes. SERIOUSLY these comments of the condemnation of pure MATHEMATICS , would be like trying to explain this to the Taliban. They didn’t have the advantage of an education, so if you dispute the effectiveness of vaccines OK , but you can’t dispute pure mathematics. Fact is here , some people will NEVER be convinced no matter what the science & no matter where the science comes from (omitting big Pharma). This is what is really scary, cause your attitude could kill us way before our time.

  3. It is such an eye opener reading the usual contributors telling us this is fake news and spin. It’s a straight lesson in percentages of percentages and interpreting statistics 📊 There’s a little clue in the heading “Imagine this scenario”.

    Saying this explanation is spin and fake news is like saying 2+2=4 is spin and fake news. Perhaps it is – who knows?

    It’s not any more controversial just the sort of thing you might learn in year 9 (or lower?) rather than preps.

    Perhaps these people could try reading it rather than just the heading, “Cosmos” and letting their knees jerk. If it still seems like fake news you have a bit of a problem.

  4. This is a pertinent clear explanation from Cosmos with great use of statistical diagrams.

    With NSW double dose vaccination rates between 50-60%, a fair approximation at test and control groups, it’s timely to look at some vaccine- related figures.

    For the week ending September 4 the percentage of locally acquired cases were:

    Fully vaccinated, 4%
    Partially vaccinated, 25.6%
    None, 27.1%
    Under investigation, 43.3%

    Not that helpful with so many unknown but to august 28

    Fully vaccinated, 2.4%
    Partially vaccinated, 22.7%
    None, 62.6%
    Under investigation, 12.3%

    The rates of hospitalisation, hospitalised and in ICU and deaths from June 16 – September 4

    Fully vaccinated, 3.3%
    Partially vaccinated, 18.1%
    None, 58.4%
    Not stated, 20.2%

    Hospitalised and in ICU:
    Fully vaccinated, 1.8%
    Partially vaccinated, 15.9%
    None, 64.4%
    Not stated, 17.9%

    Fully vaccinated, 11.6%
    Partially vaccinated, 20.9%
    None, 60.5%
    Not stated, 7%

    Some other interesting figures:

    Rates of Covid19 infection by age group from June 16-September 4:

    0-9 years 363 per 100,000 cases
    10-19 years 486 per 100,000 cases
    20-29 years 547 per 100,000 cases
    30-39 years 413 per 100,000 cases
    40-49 years 325 per 100,000 cases
    50-59 years 274 per 100,000 cases
    60-69 years 165 per 100,000 cases
    70-7 9 years 108 per 100,000 cases
    80-89 years 121 per 100,000 cases
    90+ years 134 per 100,000 cases

    Given that the vaccination rollout started much earlier for aged care residents, then 70+ then 60+ age groups, together with the supply issues for Pfizer, do these figures perhaps have indications for the effects of the vaccines on infection rates?

    But I got these figures from the NSW health website and so they should probably be dismissed because we all know all those public servants are in league on the Great Re-set!

    • Thanks Liz.
      In NSW Delta outbreak (since 16 Jun), approx. (out of 288 deaths) 33 fully vaccinated have died from COVID, aged between 70’s to 90’s, & most were from aged care facilities (some also hospital outbreaks, eg geriatric ward, etc). Would need to get the death rates of unvaccinated residents /patients from these facilities with outbreaks, for a good comparison (ie with same exposure risks, not the overall population stats).

      But what it highlights is that being fully vaccinated with these high at risk cohorts is not enough to prevent substantial COVID death rates. I wish this message was made more often. It is not only the unvaccinated that there needs to be concerns about with opening up. It is of utmost importance to significantly reduce the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in the community, for many reasons.

      And I am with the QLD health officer; no, allowing preventable deaths is not acceptable. And why did Gladys bring up mortalities for influenza 600 to 700 people, in a year when not a single flu death had been recorded. These historic flu deaths are NOT acceptable either!

  5. If the people that make the vaccines won’t take it and the government have to force people to take the vaccine,
    you really have to start asking questions.
    I see two sides of the story, mainstream media, and Infowars.com , Infowars makes a lot more sense than the mainstream media because he can actually back it up what his saying


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