MADISON - Vaccines dramatically lowered the threat of infection, hospitalization and death for Wisconsinites when confronted with the COVID-19 virus, new state data show.
People who were not fully vaccinated were nearly three times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and nearly four times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 related illness, according to data from July released Thursday by the Department of Health Services.
Those who were not fully vaccinated were about 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated residents.
The data also show infections climbing among fully vaccinated Wisconsinites due to the delta variant, according to state officials.
Thursday's release provides the first look into how COVID-19 vaccines are working in Wisconsin. The data show while becoming vaccinated does not eliminate the risk of becoming infected and experiencing serious illness, it significantly reduces the threat of becoming hospitalized or dying.
The data also show the new, more transmissible delta variant of the virus is causing more infections among fully vaccinated residents — with the rate doubling since February.
"That really is due to the fact that delta is now the predominantly circulating virus," Traci DeSalvo, director of the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases, told reporters on Thursday.
"We are seeing more cases among people who are vaccinated — fully vaccinated with delta compared to previous circulating strains of COVID-19," she said. "With that being said, what's also important to look at here is that we are still seeing much lower rates of cases, much lower rates of hospitalizations and much lower rates of deaths among those who are fully vaccinated here."
The rate of infections per 100,000 fully vaccinated people has climbed from about 57 in February to 125 in July, according to the new data.
Unvaccinated people were 4.5 times more likely to test positive for COVID in July than in June and vaccinated people were 8.7 times more likely to test positive in the same time period.
Concerns over vaccines' protection against the delta variant also prompted the Biden administration to offer booster shots of vaccine starting Sept. 20.
But overall, the risk to Wisconsin residents who are not vaccinated remains much higher than to those who are fully vaccinated. Over the last six months, people who were not fully vaccinated were on average six times as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and 4.5 times more likely to become hospitalized, according to the data.
Whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine has divided the state — literally. About half of the state's population that is eligible to get vaccinated has completed their series of shots. The rate has barely budged for months.
State officials have tried social media campaigns and offers of free State Fair food to boost vaccination rates in an effort to provide more protection against a new variant of COVID-19 that is much more transmissible and is spreading fast through the state.
The data is being released amid this effort and just a few weeks before schools are set to reopen, where clusters of children who are too young to get vaccinated will gather amid a surge of new cases.
The coming weeks worry public health officials given the state's lagging vaccination rate and a significant contingent of people and parents opposed to wearing face masks.
Wisconsin's seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases is more than 1,200 — the highest rate since early February before vaccines were widely available and 20 times higher than the state's average six weeks ago.
Matthew Piper of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin contributed to this report.