Vaccinated people are dying from the Delta variant, but in small numbers and almost all are over 50, UK data shows

·3 min read
woman receiving covid vaccine
A woman receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in Wales, UK. Matthew Horwood/Getty
  • The UK has recorded a total of 117 deaths in people with the Delta coronavirus variant.

  • Fifty were among people who'd taken two doses of vaccines - a reminder that the shots are imperfect.

  • No fully vaccinated people under 50 died, and the overall death rate was 0.13%.  

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Of those who were fully vaccinated who caught the Delta variant, 50 died, data from Public Health England that was published on Friday indicated.

The figure represents almost half of the total 117 deaths associated with the variant in the UK, where Delta now represents most cases.

But experts said this does not undermine what we know about the efficacy of the vaccines, given that the deaths come from age groups at higher risk and represent a tiny proportion of the 92,029 Delta cases analyzed.

A table whos the number of deaths among people who caught the Delta variant of COVID-19 as of June 21, according to Public Health England, broken down by age and vaccination status.
Deaths among people who got the Delta variant as of June 21, as reported by Public Health England. Public Health England

Eight people under the age of 50 died after getting the Delta variant, the data showed. None was fully vaccinated, while two had received one dose of the vaccine.

As of June 21, 92,029 cases of Delta have been confirmed by Public Health England, of which 117 ended in death.

Of those cases, 109 were in those over the age of 50. UK officials did not give a more detailed age breakdown, but coronavirus deaths disproportionately affect the very elderly.

One hundred and seventeen deaths from 92,029 cases is a death rate of about 0.13%.

"Does this mean the vaccines are ineffective? Far from it," the statisticians David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters said in an opinion piece published in The Observer newspaper on Sunday. "It's what we would expect from an effective but imperfect vaccine."

The bulk of the UK's vaccination program has been made up of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.

Two doses of these vaccines are highly protective against developing symptoms after catching the Delta variant: 88% for the Pfizer vaccine, and 60% for the AstraZeneca vaccine, earlier UK data showed.

Watch: Emergency doctor explains the dos and don'ts for COVID-19 vaccinated people

But the risk of dying from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated depends on people's age, Spiegelhalter and Masters said. The older a person is, the more likely they are to die from infection if it breaks through the protection given by the vaccines. 

"Someone aged 80 who is fully vaccinated essentially takes on the risk of an unvaccinated person of around 50 - much lower, but still not nothing, and so we can expect some deaths," the statisticians said. 

By contrast, the vaccine's efficacy on hospitalization among all age groups is clear.

Data showed that 1,320 were sick enough to spend a night in the hospital after catching the Delta variant. Of those, 190 were fully vaccinated - that is about 14%. And 831, or a much higher 63%, were unvaccinated. 

The World Health Organization said on Friday that those who are fully vaccinated should continue to follow public-health measures to curb the spread of the virus, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, and respecting correct hand hygiene.

"People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves," said Dr. Mariangela Simao, the assistant director general for access to medicines and health products at the WHO.

An analysis from the Associated Press indicated that only 0.8% of COVID-19 related deaths in the US in May, where the Delta variant made up about 20% of cases, were among vaccinated people.

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