By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Most of the people being treated for coronavirus in one of Wyoming’s largest hospital this week have been vaccinated against the illness.
But Dr. Alexa Harrist, the state’s public health officer, said it would be a mistake to judge the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine from data collected over so short a period of time.
“It’s most important to look at data trends over time, especially from large national data, large studies that are really designed to look at this question of vaccine effectiveness in preventing severe illness and death,” she told Cowboy State Daily.
This week, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center reported 16 patients of the 26 hospitalized for treatment of coronavirus were fully vaccinated. Seven were not vaccinated at all, while three patients were either partially vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown.
But Harrist cautioned anyone looking at those numbers against making broad conclusions about the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“If you look at what CRMC put out for the weeks beforehand, those numbers looked a lot different,” Harrist told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
Other hospitals around the state are not reporting number similar to CRMC’s.
At Casper’s Wyoming Medical Center, Mandy Cepeda, the hospital’s director of marketing and public relations, said more than 80% of the hospital’s sickest coronavirus patients are unvaccinated.
“In general, we are seeing very similar demographics to what we saw in the surge last fall,” she said.
Karen Clarke, community relations director for Campbell County Health, said of the patients treated at the Gillette hospital in January for coronavirus, only 10.3% had been fully vaccinated.
Harrist said data reviewed by the Wyoming Department of Health officials indicates that while people who have been vaccinated against COVID can become infected, the vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness, especially among those who are fully vaccinated and have taken the booster shot.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID are being hospitalized a much lower rate than those who have not been vaccinated.
Harrist did say the state has seen more COVID infections than ever before in recent weeks, but added the data shows a smaller percentage of hospitalized coronavirus patients need extra care, such as time in the intensive care unit or help breathing from a ventilator.
“We are going to see hospitalizations and we are concerned about hospital capacity, but we may be less likely to see those severe outcomes,” she said. “We know we are much less likely to see those severe outcomes if people are up to date on their vaccinations.”
Department officials had expected a large increase in coronavirus cases with the arrival of the Omicron variant, Harrist said, however, data shows the Omicron variant tends to result in a shorter illness when compared to other variants.
The result is instability in COVID numbers such as the increase of 2,213 active cases seen the weekend of Jan. 14-18 and, just two weeks later, a single-day decline in active cases of more than 4,000.
Harrist added that symptoms among omicron patients vary, but people should still look for the typical COVID signs: fever, muscle aches, a loss of taste and smell and congestion. If a person is experiencing these symptoms, they are encouraged to get tested for COVID and talk with their health care provider.
Wendy Corr, Jennifer Kocher and Jim Angell contributed to this report.