It is exceedingly rare for fully vaccinated Los Angeles County residents to still get infected by the coronavirus, according to a new analysis by the Department of Public Health.
The analysis results are just the latest evidence of the remarkable effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, and explain why even cautious public health officials have begun to endorse a widespread reopening of the California economy next month.
"These numbers show that the vaccine is working extraordinarily well to prevent infection, illness and death in almost everyone vaccinated," L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
Of the 3.3 million L.A. County residents fully vaccinated as of May 7, only 933 — or 0.03% — later tested positive for the coronavirus, including people who showed no symptoms but were tested anyway because of workplace requirements, Ferrer said.
Furthermore, only 71 fully vaccinated residents, or 0.002%, were later hospitalized with so-called breakthrough infections. Twelve residents, or 0.00036% of fully vaccinated people, died.
Of the 12 who died, four had severely weakened immune systems, according to the analysis. In such people, vaccinations may not produce the kind of immune system response needed to adequately protect against COVID-19, experts say.
"People whose immune systems are suppressed may need to continue to take additional steps to protect themselves in seasons and in situations where COVID and other respiratory viruses are spreading more easily," Ferrer said.
More research is needed to determine which steps those people should take.
The study was completed by matching immunization records of fully vaccinated people with people who tested positive, were hospitalized and died. The county's results are consistent with what the state has found.
Other studies have found that being fully vaccinated results in a 97% to 99% effectiveness rate in terms of staying out of the hospital, Ferrer said.
"We now have mounting proof that these vaccines really work," Ferrer said.
California's vaccination rate has been declining; it peaked at 400,000 doses a day last month and is now averaging at about 226,000 a day. Still, more than two-thirds of adults in the state are now at least partially vaccinated, and among all residents, 52% have received at least one shot.
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide are now at their lowest levels since the first weeks of the pandemic. On Thursday, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital reported zero COVID-19 patients for the first time since March 5, 2020. "A huge milestone in our battle against this pandemic," tweeted Dr. Vivek Jain of UC San Francisco.
L.A. County is now recording an average of just 236 new coronavirus cases a day over the past week — the lowest number on record since the first few weeks of the pandemic. At its peak, L.A. County was recording more than 15,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
As an enticement for more people to get their shots, any adult who gets vaccinated this weekend at any site run by the county or city of Los Angeles will be eligible to win a pair of Lakers season tickets.
"Thanks to the generosity of the Lakers and a deep commitment to getting us all safely to the end of the pandemic, the lucky pair will be able to watch live at the Staples Center all the home Lakers games for this upcoming season," Ferrer said. "So this weekend, make time to get your vaccine. Not only will you gain a lot of added protection, but you may be that lucky person who gets to watch an amazing basketball team pursue another championship."
Given the increasing level of vaccine coverage countywide, along with the growing evidence of the defense the shots provide, Ferrer said the county will follow the state's lead regarding next month's reopening.
"Our metrics look really, really good, and we feel really comfortable that we are approaching a time where, with sensible precautions, there can be a lot of changes in the safety modifications," Ferrer said. "Not all of them will go away — I don't think the state intends to get rid of all of them — but we'll be fully aligned with the state on June 15."
Still, L.A. County continues to have big disparities in who is getting vaccinated. Among residents age 16 to 64, only 34% of Black residents and 42% of Latino residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 57% of white and Native American and 67% of Asian American residents are at least partially vaccinated.
The disparity poses a risk that when mask rules are eased for vaccinated people on June 15, Latino and Black residents could face disproportionate harm if unvaccinated residents ignore the rules and stop wearing masks, leading to outbreaks among unvaccinated people.
That's why it'll be especially important to increase vaccination rates in those populations, Ferrer said.
"We do need to double down on our efforts to reduce any barriers to vaccination in hard-hit communities," Ferrer said. "Everywhere that there are lots of people that are not vaccinated — that are intermingling without any distancing or mask wearing — you've still got opportunities for there to be outbreaks."
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