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1 in 4 Pennsylvanians now getting COVID has been vaccinated. What that tells us

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With more vaccinated people getting the coronavirus, it's time for federal health authorities to make everyone eligible for a booster shot.

More than a quarter of recent COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Pennsylvania occurred in vaccinated people, the state Department of Health announced Friday.

The rate is similar to some other states, and shows the possibility of vaccine effectiveness to wane over time.

In mid-August, The New York Times reported that about one of every five new cases in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Virginia were breakthrough cases. It said 12% to 24% of new hospitalizations in those states were breakthrough cases.

Boosters shots currently are approved only for the Pfizer vaccine. And the only people eligible are those 65 and older and those 18 and older who have health conditions or live or work in high-risk settings. Those settings includes health care, public safety, education, public transit, manufacturing and grocery stores.

Those rules were set last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An FDA committee said booster shots for the general public were not necessary at the time. Decisions still are pending on the need for booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

I hope the FDA keeps a close watch on the changing data and seriously considers changing those rules.

I also hope anti-vaxxers don't point to Pennsylvania's latest data to support their position. Because they'd be wrong.

The unvaccinated still make up three-quarters of infections and hospitalizations in Pennsylvania, according to the state data. I will take those odds.

The state Health Department said Friday that 26% of the 135,098 COVID-19 cases between Sept. 5 and Oct. 4 were in vaccinated people. It said 26% of the 4,989 hospitalizations were in vaccinated people.

Those rates were bound to be low because widespread immunizations did not begin until April. So nearly all cases, hospitalizations and deaths before then would have occurred in the unvaccinated.

Commonwealth Partners, a free-market advocacy association in Harrisburg, criticized Gov. Tom Wolf's administration for not releasing more current data sooner, The Associated Press reported Friday.

The association released data earlier last week showing that about one-third of deaths in Pennsylvania from early July to mid-August were among vaccinated residents.

"In September, (the Health Department) had to know that the current numbers were different from what they were releasing. Why not give Pennsylvanians current info? What's to hide?" Gina Diorio, the group's public affairs director, told the AP.

Death data for the past month were not immediately available because of lags in reporting and verification, state health officials said Friday.

State officials expected to see more breakthrough cases as more people get vaccinated, acting Physician General Denise Johnson said.

The vaccination rate has been climbing at a much lower rate, though.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that studies show protection may decrease over time.

"This lower effectiveness is likely due to the combination of decreasing protection as time passes since getting vaccinated (e.g., waning immunity) as well as the greater infectiousness of the delta variant," the agency says on its website.

It says that data from a small clinical trial shows a Pfizer booster shot increased protection in people who had been vaccinated at least six months earlier.

So what are we waiting for?

Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or paul.muschick@mcall.com

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