An analysis of the latest numbers posted to the Louisiana Health Department (LDH) website pertaining to the percentage of “not fully vaccinated” cases, deaths, and hospitalizations show vaccinated Louisianians are dying at a higher rate of SARS CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, than unvaccinated people in the state. 

While the actual number of unvaccinated Louisianians contracting COVID, ending up in the hospital or dying is still greater, when the case fatality rates (CFR) of the two groups are separated and compared against each other, the data suggests there is a greater chance of dying if you are vaccinated and contract COVID.

Though the specific case fatality rates for these two groups—vaccinated and those not fully vaccinated—are not part of the publicly posted information on the LDH website, the LIJ was able to extract this important information because of the near-recent changes and inclusions to the LDH dashboard. We thought it was important to do an analysis of the publicly available data especially since a recent pre-print study “raise[s] concerns about the mRNA vaccines’ effectiveness against Delta — particularly Pfizer’s”,  as reported by Axios

Additionally, as public officials continue to stress and press for vaccines, and put in place vaccine mandates, and vaccine “passport” mandates, as it has been done in New Orleans, across the nation, and around the world, it is imperative to understand the risks/benefits of the vaccines so Louisianians can make an informed decision.

Dashboard Changes, Additions and Confusion

On July 30th, the LDH dashboard underwent another data/display change and began listing the percentage of “those not fully vaccinated” for cases, deaths, and hospitalizations as a percentage of the whole.  This allows for the extraction for the percentage of vaccinated deaths by taking the inverse percentage of the “those not fully vaccinated” (Figure 1).

Figure 1. LDH dashboard, July 30, 2021

It must be noted though, there is some question as to who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated. We emailed Lee Mendoza, the director of the Bureau of Health Informatics, for some clarity.

According to Mendoza’s emailed response to the LIJ, the LDH combines partially vaccinated people with unvaccinated people, stating: “Not fully vaccinated includes both people with no vaccinations, and those who have yet to complete their vaccination series.”

It is not clear why the LDH comingles these two separate data points, but a semantical debate ensues when trying to determine what’s more accurate.

A clear argument can be made that if a person has received the first dose of a two-dose series as the Pfizer and Moderna shots require, they are vaccinated. They may not be “fully” vaccinated, but they are certainly not unvaccinated since they received a shot.  

But others will argue that a person is not vaccinated until they are “fully” vaccinated, thus rendering them unvaccinated.

Still, some will say there are three different groups: unvaccinated, vaccinated and partially vaccinated.

But lending some credence to the first argument is the fact the LDH lists the vaccinated and the partially vaccinated together in the “vaccine series” column as “initiated” and “completed” on their portion of the website dedicated to vaccine information (Figure 2).

Figure 2. LDH website vaccination information page.

Either way, in the interest of translating this data in the easiest to understand way, we will consider “those not fully vaccinated,” simply as “unvaccinated” and refer to this group as such.  

Once these two groups are separated—vaccinated and unvaccinated—a comparison can be drawn between the separate cohorts, allowing for greater understanding of how vaccines are performing and how the unvaccinated are faring in Louisiana.

“Those not fully vaccinated account for” percentages are updated weekly on Wednesdays and are actually for the seven-day period ending the week prior.  Presumably, the one-week gap is to allow for analysis of the data and the appropriate calculations to be conducted. 

Hospitalizations are reported at a different frequency and will not be analyzed as a result of the different reporting schedules.

Inside the Numbers

The LIJ’s editor has been tracking and logging the daily release of LDH numbers since the start of summer last year. As a result, we have a running tally of cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, at least as far back as July, 2020.  The analyzed percentages became publicly available at the end of July this year which is roughly the beginning of the Delta variant spike in the state.

According to the LDH, the percentage of unvaccinated deaths posted on Wednesday, October 27th, was 76%, representing the percentage of deaths for this group during the seven-day period between October 14th – 20th (Figure 3).

The inverse, of course, is 24%, which represents the percentage of vaccinated people who died of COVID during this time frame.  This makes up about one-quarter of all COVID deaths in Louisiana. This means one out of every four people in the state who died of COVID were vaccinated during this seven-day period. 

Figure 3. LDH dashboard, October 27, 2021

Our calculations show the number of those unvaccinated and dying of COVID was higher during this seven-day period at 119 deaths. And while the number of vaccinated COVID deaths was lower at 37, the rate—the frequency of death within the cohort of vaccinated COVID cases—was greater.

During this period there were 641 cases of COVID among the vaccinated cohort, compared to 2920 cases for those unvaccinated. This translates to a case fatality rate of 4.1% for unvaccinated Louisianians. Whereas, the case fatality rate for people who were vaccinated and died of COVID was higher at 5.8% (Table 1).

This science and evidence run counter to statements made by Gov. John Bel Edwards in an interview with Walter Isaacson on “Amanpour & Co.” on August 4th. When asked by Isaacson how Edwards, “a pro-life Democrat in a conservative state,” makes a pro-life argument in relation to COVID, Edwards cited the high percentage of unvaccinated people in the hospital with COVID, saying, “[…] if you simply vaccinate yourself, you’re 25 times less likely to die from COVID […].” 

This is clearly not the case, and proved out when looking at the overall percentages and numbers of this data set—not just the weekly numbers—from the start in July, to the most recent information from last week. Vaccinated Louisianians are actually 1.77 times more likely to die of COVID than the unvaccinated people in the state (Table 1).

Dr. Robert Malone, an internationally recognized scientist in virology, immunology and molecular biology, and is one of the original inventors of mRNA vaccine technology, which is currently being used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines, made remarks on Twitter in August citing similar observations about vaccinated people during a series of tweets explaining the R0 (pronounced “R-naught”, which is the average number of people one infected person can infect others) of the Delta variant. 

“If you are vaccinated and then become infected, your risk of developing severe disease or dying is better than if you were not vaccinated and then become infected with Delta.”
Table 1. Data based on daily LDH numbers for cases, deaths, and hospitalizations; and the weekly percentages of “those not fully vaccinated.”

Not a “One-Off”

This higher rate of COVID deaths among vaccinated people in Louisiana compared to the unvaccinated has been fairly consistent and not a random weekly anomaly.  The LDH reported its lowest share of unvaccinated COVID deaths at 76% for the last two weeks in a row, which translates into a higher share of vaccinated deaths. Previous weeks saw a range of only 5 points and staying between 80 – 85%. But even as values fluctuate from week to week, the result is the same—a higher case fatality rate among vaccinated Louisianians compared to those unvaccinated in the state.

An examination of the CFRs of two other benchmark time intervals—not just the most recent week of reporting—show consistency within the data set.  For the first seven-day period of data reported on July 30th, the case fatality rate for the vaccinated was higher at 0.71%, compared to 0.44% for the unvaccinated. When the numbers are calculated for all weeks from the start on July 30th, to the last reporting date on October 27th, the vaccinated maintain a higher CFR of 2.16%, compared to the 1.22% for the unvaccinated (Table 1).

These statistics will not likely change since the efficacy and durability of the vaccines continue to be questioned and is the reason booster shots are now being urged. It’s also why now the CDC is considering changing what it means to be “fully vaccinated.”

According to the LDH COVID vaccination information page, there have 2,197,960 people in the state who have completed the vaccine series, or fully vaccinated, with 4,499,885 total doses administered, as of the posting of this report.

The case fatality rate for entire state is 1.9%, with a vaccination rate of 47.5%.