97.8% of COVID-related deaths in CT were unvaccinated, data shows

Nurses prepare the shot the shot during the Griffin Hospital COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Stew Leonard's in Norwalk on June 15.

Nurses prepare the shot the shot during the Griffin Hospital COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk on June 15.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

More than 650 Connecticut residents have died with COVID-19 since the state began broadly vaccinating against the disease — and nearly 98 percent of them were unvaccinated, data shows.

Between Feb. 21, when the state solidified its age-based vaccine rollout, and July 1, state records show 651 COVID-related deaths in Connecticut. Of those deaths, 97.8 percent were among patients who were unvaccinated, according to state Department of Public Health spokesperson Chris Boyle.

The remaining 2.2 percent of those deaths — 14 of 651 — involved patients who had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, Boyle said.

“I think we should be very careful not to take it as bad news,” said Yale New Haven Health’s director of infection prevention, Dr. Rick Martinello.

Epidemiologists, Martinello said, would instead point to the number of people vaccinated compared with those who have not been vaccinated.

“The right conclusion is not that vaccination is not useful, because what we don't know is how many deaths or disease otherwise did it prevent,” Martinello said. “We always need to be comparing populations vaccinated versus populations unvaccinated.”

As of July 1, 2.3 million people in Connecticut had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state data. If 14 people had died after getting the shot, that is 0.0006 percent of vaccinated people who died of a COVID-19 infection.

“The majority of the deaths that we're seeing — the overwhelming majority — are in people who have not been vaccinated. And you're seeing that nationwide,” Martinello said. “We know that the vaccine is not perfect. While it's very good at preventing illness, and it's outstanding at keeping people from having severe disease, there are people who will still have severe disease despite having been vaccinated.”

In May, the state said three vaccinated residents died with a COVID infection, and those people were “confirmed to have had underlying medical conditions.”

When asked if the additional 11 deaths involving vaccinated residents were similarly among immunocompromised patients, Boyle said, “We cannot determine the exact cause of that 2.2 percent.”

“That's consistent with what we have observed” at Yale, Martinello said.

“Certainly, we have seen some who are severely immunocompromised, vaccinated and have succumbed to COVID,” he said.

Connecticut’s data is broadly in line with the national picture. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said this month that 99.5 percent of recent COVID deaths involved people who had not been vaccinated.

“Preliminary data from several states over the last few months suggest that 99.5 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States were in unvaccinated people,” she said.

As of July 6, the CDC reported 988 COVID breakthrough deaths, out of more than 157 million people vaccinated nationwide.

Maryland announced last week that 100 people had died from a COVID-19 infection in June and none had been vaccinated against the disease.

Tennessee, too, has seen similar results.

“What we know is that people who are being hospitalized and who are dying right now are almost universally unvaccinated,” Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told local news station WMC5. “But those who are vaccinated seem to have really good protection against all of the variants, including the delta variant.”