MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the fight against COVID, Minnesota has found itself up against the ropes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Minnesota has the highest infection rate in the country as the state nears 9,000 pandemic deaths.

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Vaccine skeptics point to a growing number of deaths among the vaccinated.

The latest breakthrough case data from the Minnesota Department of Health comes from the week of Oct. 10. More vaccinated people died of COVID-19 that week than non-vaccinated people.

But the numbers also make it clear the risk of hospitalization and death is still much greater for Minnesotans who aren’t fully vaccinated.

Dr. Kevin Best, Allina Health’s vice president of medical operations for primary care, says: “If you’re playing the odds, being vaccinated is markedly better.”

As of last Tuesday, nearly 300 patients are hospitalized with COVID in the Allina system.

Three out of four of them are unvaccinated. The proportion is even higher in ICUs.

“In our ICUs and those that are on ventilators, over 90% are unvaccinated,” Best said. “I’m hopeful that starts to really hit home for people.”

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Minnesota’s rate of deaths for every 100,000 people who aren’t fully vaccinated is more than 11 times higher than the rate among the vaccinated group. It’s more than 15 times higher for hospitalizations.

“It’s very clear that the clear superiority is being vaccinated versus not being vaccinated,” Best said.

Cases of vaccinated people being hospitalized or dying have increased, however, over the course of the year.

In the most recent 10 weeks of state health data, 1,861 vaccinated people were hospitalized. In the 10 weeks leading up to July 4, that number was 222.

During the same two periods, there was an increase from 22 vaccinated deaths to 342.

Health officials say the reason for the increases could be the Delta variant or waning immunity among the earliest people vaccinated, who are more likely to be older, have comorbidities, or work in a high-risk setting.

The most recent numbers show fewer than one percent of vaccinated Minnesotans have been hospitalized with COVID, and 0.016 percent have died from the disease.

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David Schuman