The risk of ending up in intensive care due to Covid is considerably lower if you're vaccinated.

Vaccinated people seldom end up in intensive care due to Covid

Nearly 350 000 people were infected with Covid in Norway in 2021. But only 30 vaccinated and otherwise healthy people have ended up in intensive care with Covid since December 2020. “The vaccines give an incredible protection”, says chief physician.

How likely is it that a vaccinated and otherwise healthy person gets seriously ill with Covid?

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has looked at statistics from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and found the answer: It’s pretty unlikely.

The newspaper also checked in with two of the largest hospitals in the Oslo area, who confirm the numbers: vaccinated and otherwise healthy people seldom end up in intensive care.

“We’ve had a few patients who were vaccinated, but all had got their vaccines quite a while ago”, says Else-Marie Ringvold, head of the intensive care unit at the hospital Ahus.

Unvaccinated dominate in intensive care

Norway’s population is just over 5,4 million people. According to Aftenposten, nearly 350 000 were registered with Covid infection in 2021.

The Norwegian government has made great efforts in order to try to control the spread of the virus since the onset of the pandemic, most recently in response to the Omicron variant. Since December 13 last year, one of the measures has been the banning of serving alcohol in bars and restaurants.

Aftenposten writes that only 30 vaccinated and otherwise healthy Norwegians have ended up in intensive care with serious Covid since the vaccination programme started in December 2020. 21 of them have been discharged. Three of them died. The NIPH won’t give their exact age, but they were all above 65.

Out of the 849 people who have needed intensive care since December 2020, more than 80 per cent were unvaccinated.

The numbers for the past year also show that the unvaccinated who need intensive care are on average younger than the vaccinated – the median age among unvaccinated in intensive care was 52 years, as opposed to 68,5 among the vaccinated.

Who ends up in hospital?

It’s important to remember, however, that these figures coincide with the massive roll-out of vaccines. In the beginning of January 2021, not many Norwegians would have been fully vaccinated.

According to statistics from the NIPH, just under 90 per cent of Norwegians above the age of 18 are now fully vaccinated with two doses. Third doses are currently being administered in different risk and age groups.

The total numbers for hospitalizations due to Covid in Norway since the vaccination programme started in December 2020 shows that 73,5 per cent of those hospitalized were unvaccinated.

For the past four weeks, however, unvaccinated persons make up 56 per cent of all new hospitalized patients with Covid in Norway, and 72 per cent of those in intensive care, Aftenposten writes.

Genetics and underlying conditions

4 out of 5 vaccinated people who end up in intensive care are people who have a moderate or high risk of developing serious Covid due to other reasons such as being ill with cancer or obesity. This number may in fact be higher, Aftenposten writes, as experience has shown that risk factors such as obesity are not always registered.

Serious Covid in otherwise healthy and vaccinated people is very rare, and most likely connected to genetic predispositions, the newspaper writes. So how do doctors and researchers know that genes may be a factor? For one thing, because there are examples of fully vaccinated patients who are close relatives and who become seriously ill with Covid – with no underlying conditions or known risk factors.

“The vaccines give an incredible protection”, says Jan Erik Berdal, chief physician at the hospital Ahus.

“Even for those who are healthy but due to genetic reasons develop serious Covid, being vaccinated will give a great advantage”, he says.

Fully vaccinated spend fewer days at the hospital

In their most recent weekly report, the NIPH write that their numbers “indicate that vaccination protects well against hospitalization and death in all age groups”.

For those over 65 years, the statistics show that receiving a third jab of a vaccine makes a difference in terms of severity of disease. The same difference is not found for those under 65 with two and three doses, most likely as those with two doses already had quite a low risk of developing serious Covid, the NIPH writes.

A new study from the NIPH shows that fully vaccinated patients spend fewer days at the hospital than the unvaccinated patients. They also have a 50 per cent lower risk of ending up in the ICU. The study was recently published as a preprint on medRxiv.

Said differently, once hospitalized, unvaccinated have longer stays as well as a higher risk of needing intensive care.

The study however did not find any differences in the length of stay in the ICU among vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Statistics on continuously changing conditions

Creating statistics in an ongoing pandemic certainly does pose challenges.

“In a situation that is constantly changing, like new variants emerging, or changes in the vaccination programme, there is a constant need for new studies that explore new pertinent issues”, says Robert Whittaker from the NIPH, who was responsible for the study.

In ongoing work, Whittaker and colleagues will be able to include larger groups of patients and differentiate according to number of vaccine doses as well as time passed since the last dose.

“One study cannot answer all our questions, but there are many good Norwegian and international studies now that when seen together give us very good data on protection against infection and serious disease”, he says.

And all available data and experience show clearly that being vaccinated protects against serious illness and hospitalization from Covid-19.

“Now that large parts of the Norwegian population are vaccinated against Covid, it’s a natural consequence that an increasing share of those hospitalized will be vaccinated. But it is till a fact that the risk of developing serious illness from Covid-19 among grown ups is considerably higher if you are unvaccinated”, Sara Viksomen Watle, chief physician at the NIPH, said in a press release about the study.

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