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Michigan COVID cases rising, but vaccines make surge in deaths less likely

Increased rates of vaccination among Michigan residents 65 and older may have saved 250 lives, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis of state mortality data. (Shutterstock photo)

April 6 update: Michigan COVID hospitalizations again on the rise, but patients are younger

Even with coronavirus cases rising again in Michigan, the rollout of the vaccines appears to be paying off, as fewer older residents contract COVID-19, a Bridge Michigan analysis shows.

That could result in far fewer deaths because those 60 and older have far higher mortality rates from COVID-19.


“No doubt, we’re seeing the impact of (vaccinations,) and it’s fabulous,” said Linda Vail, health officer for Ingham County.

Ingham County ranks No. 4 in the state in terms of vaccinating the 65 and older population, with just over 75 percent having gotten at least the first shot and 38 percent have gotten both.

graphic of covid cases falling among seniors

Statewide, 56 percent of seniors have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, while 12 percent of those 16-64 have gotten at least the first dose. 

Inoculating seniors is the quickest way to substantially reduce hospitalizations and deaths, since the three vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective and 90 percent of the state’s 15,707 confirmed COVID-19 deaths are among those 60 and older, Vail and other experts said.

The vaccines are already making their mark, data shows. 

Prior to January, 23.4 percent of all new infections in Michigan were among those 60 or older.

But in the week ending Saturday, after nearly 1 million seniors have received at least one vaccine dose, that percentage has fallen to 15.5 percent.

health watch box

Cases are rising most among those 10 to 29 years old, comprising 35 percent of all cases last week, but they are far less likely to be hospitalized or die. 

With cases overall up over 60 percent in the last three weeks — an average of 847 daily cases to 1,362 — experts said the increase in senior vaccinations could avoid waves of death that have typically followed pikes.

“You’re going to start to see a significant drop in hospitalizations and deaths even if you have an increase in cases,” Vail said.

The trends mirror the profound decline in cases among nursing home residents and others in senior care facilities, among the first, after health-care workers, to get the required two doses of the vaccines.

In late December, there were over 800 weekly cases among nursing home residents. That number fell to 44 cases two weeks ago, with a slight increase to 49 this most recent week.

The implications are huge: Although it may take months to vaccinate 5 million state residents 16 and older to reach “herd immunity,” the mortality rate from COVID-19 is likely to plummet.

Between August and December, over 65,000 Michigan residents 60 and older contracted the virus and of those, over 4,000 died, a mortality rate of over 6 percent (it’s 1.8 percent overall).

Renee Leon, 69, got her vaccine in Grand Traverse County
Renee Leon, 69, got her vaccine in Grand Traverse County, which has vaccinated the highest percentage of those 65 and older. Statewide, 56 percent of seniors have gotten at least the first of two doses. (Courtesy photo)

If infection rates among seniors had stayed the same since January and not fallen because of the protection of the vaccinations, an estimated 4,400 more seniors would have been infected. 

If 6 percent of them had died, that means the vaccinations could have saved 250 lives, according to Bridge Michigan calculations.

It’s one of the reasons Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer, continued to urge Michigan residents to get any of the three approved vaccines during an event Wednesday marking the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed coronavirus case.

“These vaccines are the way we'll be able to do more of the things we want to do just like before the pandemic started,” Khaldun said.

With the CDC setting new guidelines for what vaccinated people can do, including gathering freely with other vaccinated people, they said everyone should get the vaccine when they get the chance.

The state lowered the age threshold to 50 years old this week, for those with certain health conditions, and will open vaccines to everyone 50 and older on March 22.

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