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Unvaccinated 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 in Wisconsin

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Vaccine clinic

Kris Voegeli, with Public Health Madison and Dane County, prepares COVID-19 vaccine during a drive-through vaccination clinic.

Dr. Bill Hartman from UW Health discusses what we can expect in the coming weeks.

Wisconsin residents not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were 2.4 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus and 3.4 times more likely to die from it than those fully vaccinated in March, smaller differences between the groups than in previous months, health officials said Thursday.

In January, when the state Department of Health Services last released such information, based on data from December as the omicron variant emerged, unvaccinated residents were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the fully vaccinated.

The health department on Thursday addressed the latest data on its website and in a media call.

“Your likelihood of being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 is determined by many factors, which include vaccinations, but also include the level of transmission and vaccine coverage in your community, whether you or others wear masks as recommended, the number of people you have close contact with, and more,” the agency said on the website.

Traci DeSalvo, communicable diseases director for the department, said the hospitalization and death rate differences, while smaller than before, still “are continuing to show the value of vaccines to really prevent those severe cases of COVID-19 and really helping to reduce morbidity and mortality from this illness.”

Since the state first released such monthly data in August, for July, unvaccinated residents had been three to five times more likely to get COVID-19, four to 11 times more likely to be hospitalized with it and 10 to 19 times more likely to die from it than those fully vaccinated.

The largest difference in the hospitalization rate came in October and November. The largest difference in the death rate came in September, during the peak of the delta variant surge.

The department didn’t provide such data for January, February or March until Thursday, saying the delay came as it “made improvements to the way data was gathered and stored in order to address technical difficulties.”

In January and February, unvaccinated residents were about 1.3 times more likely to get COVID-19 and about three times more likely to be hospitalized than those fully vaccinated. Their death rate was more than seven times higher in January and more than five times higher in February.

In March, there were 205.5 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 unvaccinated people, compared to 195.9 cases per 100,000 for those fully vaccinated. There were 13.1 hospitalizations and 6.4 deaths per 100,000 among the unvaccinated, compared to 5.4 and 2 per 100,000 among the fully vaccinated.

The data, which are age-adjusted, do not account for booster shots.

Meanwhile, the state reported 814 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, for a daily average of 729, the highest level since late February, mirroring a nationwide uptick. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Wisconsin have been relatively stable recently but rose by seven Thursday, for a total of 148.

Milwaukee is seeing a “major increase” in coronavirus detected in sewage, an indicator health officials are paying more attention to as testing rates are declining and more people are turning to home-based tests, for which results typically aren’t officially reported.

Ashland, Hayward, Menomonie, Portage and Stevens Point are also seeing major increases of the COVID-19 virus in sewage, according to the state health department. Madison recently has had no significant change.

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