A student holds her mask as she listens to Gov. Tom Wolf speak at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pa., Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania
A student holds her mask as she listens to Gov. Tom Wolf speak at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pa., Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Unvaccinated people and those who have yet to be fully vaccinated had seven times the risk of contracting the virus and nearly eight times the risk of death as those offered full protection by a vaccine, according to the data.

Pennsylvania residents who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus were far more likely to contract COVID-19, become hospitalized and die than those who got the shot, health officials said Tuesday in the first public release of data on so-called “breakthrough” infections in the state.

More than 35,000 people who were fully vaccinated have tested positive for the virus since January, representing only 6% of all cases statewide, according to the data released Tuesday. 

More than 1,800 vaccinated people were hospitalized and 213 died — both representing a tiny fraction of all COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths since the beginning of the year, the data show.

Unvaccinated people and those who have yet to be fully vaccinated had seven times the risk of contracting the virus and nearly eight times the risk of death as those offered full protection by a vaccine, according to the data.

The relative scarcity of milder breakthrough cases among residents who got the vaccine shows the shots are working, state health officials said.

“My hope is that this data encourages everyone who has not been vaccinated to speak to their doctor about getting the vaccine as soon as possible,” Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said at a news conference in Lancaster.

“The data that we have is showing once again that even as the more transmissible Delta becomes more widespread, the COVID vaccines are safe, are effective, and help prevent serious illness and death,” she said.

Top GOP lawmakers had requested the data on breakthroughs. The Republicans, who have been skeptical of Wolf’s pandemic measures — including, most recently, his statewide mask mandate for schools — wrote to Wolf last week that “all Pennsylvanians, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, deserve to know how their respective group is performing.”

Wolf promised his administration would release the information, and went further. 

Noting that vaccination efforts are lagging in some areas of the state — including those with GOP representation — he vowed to release vaccination reports by legislative district “so that the General Assembly and public can better understand how well each member’s district is performing.”

The hospitalization statistics released Tuesday account for data reported by 55% of Pennsylvania hospitals representing 80% of the state’s acute-care beds.

Beam also shared statistics on increasing COVID-19 rates among children, noting that the current seven-day average of new cases in the state—more than 3,500—includes 10 times as many school age children as a year ago, when virtual education was the norm statewide.

With children mostly back in school and some parents and school districts in the state still trying to circumvent the state’s mask mandate, vaccination rates among those in the 12-17 age group become increasingly important. Currently, just over 57% of them have had at least one dose of the vaccine, while just over 41% of them are fully vaccinated.

Appearing at a vaccine clinic Tuesday in Reading, Wolf noted that children under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and that masks, social distancing and other measures are needed to keep schools open for in-person learning.

“Distance learning does not work. and so we can no longer afford to say we’re going to do hybrid or remote learning,” Wolf said. “This year, we’ve got to get them back in the classroom, and we’ve got to keep them in the classroom.” 

His administration’s mask mandate for schools has generated fierce pushback from a subset of parents and students. At least two lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn it. Some school districts are allowing students to go unmasked  with a parent’s signature instead of a doctor’s note, which the state Education Department says doesn’t comply with the masking order.