As new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, VERIFY is getting more questions about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing hospitalizations.
"I've heard most COVID patients in the hospital are not vaccinated. Is it true?" asked 13News viewer Stacey.
Another viewer, Christopher, wrote to ask, "What [percentage] of Covid patients requiring hospitalization are non-vaccinated?"
13News VERIFY turned to local health care organizations that run Indiana hospitals to answer these questions.
Are most patients hospitalized with COVID-19 individuals who are unvaccinated?
- Community Health Network
- Eskenazi Hospital
- Ascension St. Vincent Hospitals
- Indiana University Arnett Hospital
Yes, most patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 symptoms are not fully vaccinated, according to multiple central Indiana hospitals. Those health systems told VERIFY between 81% and 96% of recent coronavirus patients requiring in-patient care received no COVID-19 vaccine or are only partially vaccinated.
WHAT WE FOUND
Most hospital systems in central Indiana carefully track COVID-19 data amongst their patient populations, and most told VERIFY the vast majority of their patients who have been admitted because of coronavirus are not fully vaccinated.
A sampling of those hospitals by 13News shows:
- Community Health Network said between Nov. 19 and Dec. 19, its Indiana hospitals admitted 874 patients for COVID-19. Of those patients, 96% of them (839) were not fully vaccinated, according to communications director Kris Kirschner.
- Eskenazi Hospital reported it had 72 patients being treated for coronavirus Monday, Dec. 20. Ninety-five percent of those patients were not fully vaccinated, said hospital spokesman Tom Surber.
- IU Health announced on Twitter that Arnett Hospital had 52 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, Dec. 16, and 81% of those patients (42) were not vaccinated. Of the 15 coronavirus patients who were in intensive care at Arnett, 93% of them (14) were unvaccinated. And of the nine COVID patients requiring a ventilator, 100% were not vaccinated.
Some of the facilities say the number of unvaccinated patients requiring medical care is pushing them to capacity.
"It feels like a lot of people," said Dr. Graham Carlos, Eskenazi Hospital's executive medical director. "We have over 70 positive COVID patients in the hospital right now. Given that our hospital is completely full, it's really straining the system."
The numbers at Ascension St. Vincent hospitals are similar.
Ascension said 93% (1,353 out of 1,460) of patients admitted to its central Indiana hospitals with COVID-19 this year were not fully vaccinated.
"Most of those patients in the hospital have not received any vaccine at all. For the most part, they're people who who've received zero doses," said Dr. Christopher Belcher, the infection prevention medical director at Ascension St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital.
But the numbers at Ascension hospitals appear to be shifting.
In May and June, nearly 100% of Ascension St. Vincent’s COVID patients were unvaccinated, according to data provided to 13News. By October and November, the number of unvaccinated coronavirus patients had dropped to around 87%. The trend is still pointing downward, hovering around 82% through the first three weeks of December.
Ascension doctors are now seeing more breakthrough cases of patients who need hospital care despite being fully vaccinated.
Belcher attributes the increase to COVID-19 vaccines not being quite as effective against newer variants of the virus and due to vaccine effectiveness diminishing over time for those who have not received a booster shot. The doctor said the trend helps explain why people should get a COVID-19 vaccine — not why they should avoid them.
"We've saved so many lives. So many people have stayed out the hospital because they were fully vaccinated," he told VERIFY. "The virus is evolving. We need to stay ahead of it. It's not that it's a waste of time … vaccinated people generally stay out the hospital. Almost everyone in the hospital — 8 out of 10 at least — are unvaccinated individuals."
Carlos also encouraged Hoosiers to get vaccinated.
"The vaccine works a lot like seatbelts. A seatbelt doesn't prevent you from getting into a car accident. It does prevent you from dying or becoming critically injured in a car accident," said the Eskenazi pulmonary critical care doctor. "The same goes for vaccines. They protect from severe infection — the kind that might land you in a hospital. So the fact you might have breakthrough infection is possible, but that breakthrough shouldn't threaten your life."