Maine may have avoided 800 COVID-19 infections, 300 hospitalizations and 100 deaths among seniors during the first five months of this year because of access to vaccinations, according to a new federal study released on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, as efforts continue to vaccinate more Maine residents, the state reported 897 new COVID-19 cases and 10 additional deaths on Tuesday. But, many of those cases were from the weekend or last week and a reduced backlog of cases could foreshadow lower case counts later this week.
The new federal study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and provides a state-by-state breakdown of the impact of vaccines. It concluded that nationally, vaccinations prevented about 265,000 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations and 39,000 deaths for Medicare recipients from January through May. Medicare covers people age 65 and older.
“This report reaffirms what we hear routinely from states: COVID-19 vaccines save lives, prevent hospitalizations, and reduce infection,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, in a statement. The vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization, with a recent study published in The Lancet scholarly journal showing the Pfizer vaccine was 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations against all variants, including the more contagious delta variant.
The vaccine rollout began in late December, but accelerated in January and through the spring, with seniors among the first to get immunized against COVID-19. The study is based on data collected before, during and after the vaccine rollout to measure the impact in each state.
“The study found an 11 to 12 percent decrease in weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths among Medicare beneficiaries for every 10 percent increase in county vaccination rates,” according to an HHS news release.
The study said that “initial increases in vaccination rates are likely very effective and even a modest increase in vaccination rates has a large payoff.”
Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, ranking fourth behind Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island for the percent of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccination rate is especially high among the state’s oldest residents.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 92,365 cases of COVID-19, and 1,036 deaths.
The new cases represent positive cases from Saturday, Sunday and Monday as the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not report case counts on weekends. The total also includes some cases dating back to late September because of a backlog in screening positive test results.
But the backlog on Tuesday was only 600 cases, in comparison to backlogs of 1,500 to 2,500 test results that the Maine CDC has been dealing with on a weekly basis for the past several weeks. State health workers must screen out duplicate positive results to get an accurate count. About 80 percent of the positive tests reported to the state are not duplicates and are added to the case count, according to Maine CDC.
A reduced backlog could mean that the Maine CDC will report lower case counts later this week.
The seven-day average of daily new cases in Maine stood at 597.1 on Tuesday, compared to 521.9 a week ago and 383 a month ago. Maine has 45 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, the 14th-highest rate in the nation and higher than the national average of 32 per 100,000 population.
There have been other signs of the pandemic lessening, however. Hospitalizations in Maine dipped to 177 on Tuesday, down from 192 on Monday, which had been the lowest level in 18 days and well off the peak of 235 on Sept. 25.
Nationally, cases have declined to about 100,000 daily, on a seven-day average, a 28 percent decreased from two weeks ago, according to federal data.
“Let’s hope that easing works its way to Maine,” Shah said on “Maine Calling,” Maine Public’s call-in radio show, on Monday.
Another positive sign is that COVID-19 test positivity rates – on a seven-day average – have declined from about 6 percent a few weeks ago to 4.28 percent on Tuesday.
Lower positivity rates are a sign that tests are finding most cases of the virus, giving health workers a better chance to reduce transmission of the disease with quarantine and isolation tactics. Some states – but not Maine – have seen positivity rates climb to 10 percent or higher as waves of disease overwhelmed hospitals and closed schools.
Vaccinations have also been increasing in Maine, although much of the increase is because of booster shots being given to those age 65 and older and those with high risk health conditions.
On the vaccination front, 878,363 Maine people have received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 65.3 percent of the state’s 1.3 million population.