Only 36 of the 483 people who died of Covid-19 in the first nine months of this year in Hawaii were vaccinated, according to data released Friday as health officials stressed the role of vaccines in preventing coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths.

The timespan includes the surge of the delta variant, which led to record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 deaths and overwhelmed hospitals in the islands.

State health officials repeatedly have touted the benefits of vaccines in preventing people from getting critically ill or being killed by the respiratory virus, but Friday was the first time that Hawaii released detailed data about breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths.

State epidemiologist Sarah Kemble told reporters in a Zoom press conference Friday that she’s still concerned about the possibility of another surge despite Hawaii’s relatively high vaccination rate.

Sarah Kemble, state epidemiologist, encourages people to get vaccinated against Covid to prevent hospitalization or death. Eleni Avendaño/Civil Beat/2020

More than 72% of Hawaii’s entire population is fully vaccinated against Covid, with more than a million doses administered.

“Breakthrough infections are expected because no vaccine is 100% effective, but this new data mirrors national studies that show vaccinated people are well-protected against Covid-19,” Kemble said.

The new data shows that between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 36 fully vaccinated people died of Covid compared with 447 unvaccinated people in Hawaii.

“That is 12 times as many unvaccinated people dying,” said Brooks Baehr, spokesman for the Department of Health. “And of course, way, way more people are vaccinated than unvaccinated.”

Nearly 400,000 Hawaii residents still aren’t fully vaccinated, according to the latest available state data, including children who still aren’t eligible for the vaccine.

Kemble said the state has vaccinated 6% of children aged 5-11, who recently became eligible for the shot.

The state data also revealed that people younger than 60 who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 were 34 times less likely to die than people who were unvaccinated.

During that same time period, fully vaccinated people aged 60 and up were nine times less likely to die than those who were unvaccinated.

During the first half of the year — before delta became the dominant Covid variant in Hawaii — there were only 11 documented breakthrough hospitalizations. The Department of Health said 96% of vaccinated patients who caught Covid then were not hospitalized.

As delta surged in Hawaii, there were 135 documented breakthrough hospitalizations between July 1 and Sept. 30. But still, 97% of vaccinated people who caught Covid then were not hospitalized.

During the first six months of 2021, only one vaccinated person aged 60 or older died of Covid. Then the delta variant tore through Hawaii.

During the delta surge between July 1 and Sept. 30, 31 vaccinated people aged 60 and up who caught Covid died, while four vaccinated people who were younger than 60 died of Covid.

That’s still far fewer than the 447 unvaccinated people who died over that time period, health officials said.

Kemble said that waning immunity may have contributed to breakthrough cases but noted that some older people also may not have mounted a full immune response to the vaccine.

Vaccinated people who catch Covid can spread the virus, but Kemble said they’re less likely to do so because they’re less likely to be symptomatic and more likely to have a shorter infectious period than unvaccinated people who get sick.

The state reported 138 new cases on Friday, with an average of just over 100 cases per day this week. Five more deaths were recorded for a total of 976. In all, 85,628 people have contracted Covid since the pandemic began in Hawaii in March 2020.

Kemble and Baehr encouraged Hawaii residents who already have been vaccinated to get Covid booster shots if they think their jobs put them at risk of catching the virus, or if they’re aged 65 and up or immunocompromised.

Kemble said the state has ample supply of booster shots available for those who need them.

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