Oct 20, 2021 - COVID
Nashville's COVID breakthrough rate remains low
An illustration of a breakthrough COVID case with a candle in front of a virus.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Unvaccinated people continue to account for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Nashville, according to new data shared by the chair of the city's pandemic response task force.

  • There have been 27 breakthrough deaths out of a total of 1,109, task force chair Dr. Alex Jahangir tells Axios. Those numbers go back to the start of the pandemic, including well before the vaccines were widely available early this year.
  • The breakthrough mortality rate in Davidson County is 0.3% (27 out of 7,652 known cases), compared to 0.8% for unvaccinated deaths (1,082 out of 131,447 known cases).

Why it matters: Jahangir said the local data matches national numbers showing that a fully vaccinated person is significantly less likely to die compared to an unvaccinated person.

  • Jahangir acknowledged the high-profile death of fully vaccinated retired Gen. Colin Powell, which stirred up criticism about the efficacy of the vaccines.
  • "The data gives me comfort, and should give us all comfort, about why it is important to get vaccinated," Jahangir says.

Between the lines: Jahangir pointed out that Powell, who died Monday, had been battling multiple myeloma and was immunocompromised, factors that put him at additional risk.

  • "I review the death reports, and of the (breakthrough deaths) I'm aware of, all of them were people who were older and/or immunocompromised," Jahangir tells Axios.

By the numbers: Data from the Tennessee Department of Health indicates that in August, fully vaccinated people accounted for 17% of all COVID deaths in the state.

  • Between May and the end of August, when the most recent statewide data is available, fully vaccinated people made up 12% of deaths.

What they're saying: David Aronoff, director of the infectious diseases division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Axios that real-time analysis of COVID-19 data is clear. Vaccines offer powerful protection against infection, hospitalization and death.

  • Aronoff said Powell's death illustrates the risks for a specific population of older, immunocompromised people.
  • Vaccines "do not create a 100% forcefield," Aronoff said. "But they are highly, highly protective. We need to remember that vaccines are playing a role like helmets do on motorcycle drivers or seatbelts do on people in cars."
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