Where we are now

Tracking the party line on the course of the epidemic in Minnesota, Kevin Roche unloads on Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health in the Healthy Skeptic post “It’s not good to bottle up your negative feelings…” Kevin has been compiling data on breakthrough infections in graphic form, as he did here last week. (Kevin refers below to the updated table that he has not yet posted to his site.) I asked Kevin to lay out the facts underlying his take on the wailing Walz. Kevin writes:

The basic background is that for some time the Minnesota Department of Health has downplayed the number and role of breakthrough infections in sustaining the epidemic. The table shows the data they give us every Monday, on a reported basis. They so far have refused to provide date of event, which they give for all cases. That failure alone makes it hard to identify trends.

They have the data. They also have acknowledged inadequacies in their ability to identify who is fully vaccinated, so the data they are providing is certainly an undercount. And they know as well as I do that nationally and internationally the data are showing the same loss of effectiveness across the population in regard to infection and a loss of protection in older groups in regard to serious disease.

Notwithstanding this, at the press conference on Monday when Walz announced new vaccination incentives aimed primarily at teenagers, he and Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm went out of their way again to provide misleading information about the extent of events in the fully vaccinated. Use of per capita, or population-based, statistics is fine and appropriate as long as it is done in context, with absolute numbers and trends also provided, and if you are providing per capita statistics for a subpopulation, in this case the fully vaccinated, then you must also provide them for the other subpopulation, in this case the unvaccinated.

The department never used per capita statistics in regard to the epidemic prior to this, and is only using them now to minimize the impact of breakthrough events. If half the new cases are in the vaccinated for example, it doesn’t matter how low the current per capita numbers are, those cases are significant in keeping the epidemic alive.

Walz stated that while October has a lot of deaths so far, and it does, only one or two would be determined to be among the fully vaccinated. If you look at the chart [in his message to me] you can see that this certainly is untrue and in fact is a whopper of a lie.

Malcolm similarly said that the vast majority of hospitalizations are in the unvaccinated. I am not sure what her definition of vast majority is, but a very substantial fraction of hospitalizations are in the fully vaccinated and that proportion is increasing. So as usual, my strongest reaction is to the ongoing provision of false and misleading information to the public.

Better, in my judgment, for the state to be fully forthcoming–give us the dates and ages of breakthrough events, include data on the partially vaccinated and on reinfections in the unvaccinated, give us trends, and put it in context. We should not have anticipated that a respiratory virus vaccine would eliminate Covid-19. And it wouldn’t hurt to be honest and say the vaccines aren’t working as well as we hoped, although they do provide good protection against serious disease for most age groups.

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