Nearly all recent Alabama COVID-19 deaths among unvaccinated residents, health official says

Published 10:33 pm Friday, August 6, 2021

Since the pandemic began, just 26 of the 11,600 people in Alabama who have died of COVID-19 were fully vaccinated, State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday.

And most of the nearly 2,000 COVID-19 patients currently in state hospitals are also unvaccinated, he said.

Harris released the numbers as the state tries to boost lagging vaccination rates. Health officials say recent cases resulting in severe illness and death could have largely been prevented if people had gotten inoculated.

The state has seen a sharp uptick in cases and hospitalizations, prompting renewed warnings from health officials for precautions such as wearing masks, in addition to the continued call for vaccinations.

“I think it’s correct to say that we wouldn’t see these kinds of numbers if we had more people vaccinated,” Harris said. “Again, the case numbers are being driven by people that aren’t vaccinated, which is unfortunate.”

The number of people hospitalized stood at 1,923 on Friday, the highest the state has seen since late January. There were about 3,000 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals at the peak of the pandemic, and health officials have expressed concern that the state could be quickly headed back to that number. Harris said 93% of the state’s intensive care beds are full.

“It’s been reported to us from hospitals that virtually all of those patients are unvaccinated patients,” Harris said. He said the state is working with the Alabama Hospital Association to get definitive numbers.

Alabama has seen the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases nearly triple over the past two weeks, rising from 1,133 on July 21 to 3,167 on Aug. 4.

Alabama is one of the least vaccinated states in the country. The state ranks last for the percentage of people fully vaccinated with 34%. In Alabama, 44% of people have received at least one dose of vaccine, a figure that ranks the state fifth from last.

Harris said health officials have identified 6,427 people who contracted COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, but the vaccine remains effective in preventing infections and serious illness.

While there has been a steep increase in cases and hospitalizations, deaths have not yet followed — or at least not yet. Most of Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths were reported before the widespread availability of the vaccine. Nearly 11,000 of the deaths occurred before April 1.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Alabama has risen over the past two weeks from four on July 21 to nine on Aug. 4., according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Deaths are usually a lagging indicator of the pandemic’s severity and reported deaths typically increase several weeks after a jump in cases and hospitalizations when some of those hospitalized patients do not recover.

The pandemic’s shift to younger patients and away from older age groups — which have higher vaccination rates — could mean better survival rates. Harris said it’s still unclear if deaths are going to rise in the same way that they did earlier in the pandemic.