The number of people in intensive care in New South Wales continues to climb as Covid spreads, leaving some concerned that many of those hospitalised include those who have been vaccinated.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters on Sunday around half of those in the state's intensive care units (ICUs) were vaccinated.
This may be surprising to some but it should not be taken as evidence the vaccines do not work. In fact, it shows the opposite.
Around 93 per cent of adults in NSW have now been fully vaccinated, leaving around 7 per cent of the population not entirely protected. Despite making up a small proportion of the wider community, these 7 per cent now account for more than half of all ICU admissions.
"People making up a very small proportion of the at-risk population, are making up a large proportion of those in ICU," Deakin University epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett told news.com.au.
If vaccination didn't protect people from infection or hospitalisation, Bennett said the ratio of vaccinated people in ICU would be the same as those in the general population: 93 per cent. Instead the number in ICU is a lot lower, just 50 per cent in NSW.
Bennett also noted that the 50 per cent figure was probably an overestimate as not everyone who is in ICU with Covid would have been admitted due to Covid. Some may have had accidents or other health issues requiring treatment but also happen to have Covid.
"They are potentially overcounting vaccinated people in ICU with Covid because of these incidental infections," Bennett said.
"Vaccination is absolutely working and you can see that even through this cloudy picture."
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said Sunday that people should expect to see more vaccinated people in ICU.
"As we go forward, we should expect — because most people are vaccinated — to see an increasing proportion of people in ICU that are that are vaccinated."
Around 70.2 per cent of the people who died between June 16 and December 25 last year also had not been vaccinated or received at least one effective dose (420 people).
This compares with 96 people who were fully vaccinated and 76 who were partially vaccinated.
As the pandemic progressed Chant said the community should expect to see increasing deaths of elderly people who are doubly vaccinated and boosted.
"Many of those have got pre-existing health conditions," she said.
People who are vaccinated can still get Covid but tend to get a milder disease with reduced rates of hospitalisations and death. Boosters can improve these rates even more, especially against Omicron.
Perrottet said it was very clear that higher vaccination rates meant lower death rates.
"The numbers don't lie."
Across Australia 3527 people have been hospitalised with Covid, with another 342 in ICU.
Men are more likely to die, with 1307 passing away since the pandemic began, compared to 1053 women.
More than one million Australians have now been infected with the virus.
On Wednesday hospitalisations in NSW climbed to 2242, with 175 people in intensive care, 54 of whom require ventilation.
78 per cent lower chance of catching Covid
The effectiveness of vaccination has also been seen overseas in New York, United States.
In the week beginning December 27, 4.59 of every 100,000 vaccinated New Yorkers ended up in hospital compared to a whopping 58.27 per 100,000 among those who were unvaccinated.
Statistics also show that those who were vaccinated were less likely to get infected with the virus, even with the more infectious Omicron variant circulating.
In the week beginning December 13, fully-vaccinated New Yorkers had about a 78 per cent lower chance of getting Covid, compared to those were who unvaccinated
"These results indicate that laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and hospitalisation with COVID-19 have been uncommon events among the population of people who are fully-vaccinated," the New York State website stated.
Omicron booster to be available in March
Meanwhile vaccine manufacturer Pfizer expects a jab targeting the Omicron variant to be ready in March, the company's head said Monday.
Pfizer chief executive Officer Albert Bourla told CNBC that Pfizer is already manufacturing doses due to keen interest from governments, as authorities contend with huge Covid-19 infection counts, including large numbers of "breakthrough" Omicron cases in vaccinated populations.
"This vaccine will be ready in March," Bourla told the network. "I don't know if we will need it. I don't know if and how it will be used."
Bourla said the existing regime of two vaccine shots and a booster has provided "reasonable" protection against serious health effects from Omicron.
But a vaccine focused directly on the Omicron variant would also guard against breakthrough infections of a strain that has proven highly contagious, but has also resulted in many mild or asymptomatic cases.
In a separate interview with CNBC Monday, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the company is developing a booster that could address Omicron and other emerging strains in the fall 2022.
"We are discussing with public health leaders around the world to decide what we think is the best strategy for a potential booster for the fall of 2022," Bancel told the network.
"We need to be careful to try to stay ahead of a virus and not behind the virus."