PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The delta variant has been by far the most dangerous version of the COVID-19 virus Oregon has ever seen. It has smashed records for new cases, filled the state’s hospitals to levels never even imagined before, and killed people at a far faster rate.
This latest wave has been dubbed by health experts and President Biden as the “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” and that is proving entirely true. At OHSU on Thursday, 90% of all hospital patients with COVID were unvaccinated, 97% of ICU patients were unvaccinated as were 96% of all patients on a ventilator. Over the last two months since the delta variant really took hold in the state, nearly all deaths have been unvaccinated people.
Stats show: Vaccine saves lives
A lot of efforts have been made using information like this to try and convince those who are hesitant to get their shots. Perhaps a better way is to look at it from the other way of how many lives the vaccines have saved. Using some estimates it could be in the thousands just in the Portland metro area.
There is no way to know the exact number of people who would have died from the delta variant because of the vaccine, but using the data we have comparing higher and lower vaccinated counties there are patterns of vaccine success.
The biggest dividing date is July 1, 2021. Governor Brown had just announced Oregon was allowed to reopen as the state hit 70% of those eligible were vaccinated.
It’s also around that date where the delta variant took over the state. With every surge of the virus, deaths begin to rise nearly two weeks after cases, so using July 1 as the start to the delta variant, July 13 becomes the cut off date for the rise in deaths as caused by the delta variant.
Deaths before and after July 13
Statewide there were 2,847 deaths from the virus before July 13. The first COVID death in Oregon was reported on March 10, 2020. That means from then until July 13, 2021 there was an average of 167.47 deaths per month.
That is almost entirely filled with months where there was no available vaccines or the population working towards full vaccination.
In the two months since July 13 of this year, there have been 722 deaths, an average of 361.0 deaths per month. That is more than twice as high an average as in the first 17 months, and that comes with at least 70% of the population vaccinated. But in the “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated,” it’s possible to look even closer at how deadly missing out on vaccinations can be.
No place in Oregon has been hit worse by the delta variant than Southwestern Oregon of Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties.
By the start of the delta variant surge, the three counties combined to only have around a 50% vaccination rate. That is far below the statewide goal of 70% and it shows. Pre-delta variant, the southwestern counties combined were averaging 18.41 deaths per month, but since July 13 that average has exploded to 145.0 deaths per month.
That’s a rate of 7.87 times higher, and that’s with at least half of adults vaccinated.
Break that down by individual counties and it’s even worse. In Josephine County the death rate during the delta surge is 22 times higher than in the first 17 months of the pandemic. In Douglas County the delta surge rate is 19 times higher.
Now take those rates in comparison to the Portland metro region which has some of the highest vaccination rates in the state. By the time Governor Brown reopened Oregon, Multnomah and Washington counties had both crossed the 70% vaccination goal, and Clackamas County wasn’t too far behind.
Pre-delta variant the Metro tri-counties saw a total of 1,118 deaths which averages out to 65.77 per month.
However, in the deadlier delta-era that number is cut in half to only 66 deaths, or 33 per month. So what if the fastest created vaccine in human history had still been years off? That spike in deaths seen in lower vaccinated counties would be the case around Portland.
If the Metro tri-counties had a similar death rate as Josephine County since July 13, they would have seen 2,828 more deaths than the 66 it did record. If they had the 19 times increase of Douglas County, the Metro area the increased number of deaths would be 2,452.
And remember those are conservative estimates since we’re using the increased death rate of counties that, while are some of the lowest in Oregon, still had at least half the adult population vaccinated at the time. If the vaccination rate was zero with no vaccine available, it would be even worse.
It’s sobering to think the vaccines can be responsible for saving between 2,452 and 2,828 lives in just the Portland area since July 13 when statewide there was 2,847 deaths total in the months before the delta variant.
And that’s on the low end of the estimate. The vaccines are proving to be a success in not just keeping people from getting sick, but keeping people alive.
Justin McWhirter is a KOIN 6 News producer who has tracked the COVID statistics for many months.