One in 43 Hoosiers who contract COVID-19 and are over age 65 and not living in a nursing home will die from the disease, experts affiliated with a statewide study on the prevalence of the novel coronavirus said during a webinar Thursday.
“That is very scary,” said Paul Halverson, founding dean of the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis, affiliated with the research.
The webinar, attended by 41 people, was aimed at Fort Wayne-area educators and students, plus representatives of health care and nonprofit organizations and the business community.
“Contributions of the Indiana Prevalence Study to the Worldwide Fight against COVID-19” provided an update on the groundbreaking study that tracked a large random sample of Hoosiers beginning early the pandemic.
The study is not enrolling new participants.
The experts said the study made a major contribution to COVID-19 science by showing that many more people have contracted the virus than are shown in the state's tracking statistics.
That's because those statistics track only people who have been tested and not those who have the virus and don't know it or who aren't sick enough to seek medical care. That group is more than 10 times larger than the official number of cases, the study authors concluded.
The researchers found that while the overall risk of dying if infected is 0.26%, or 1 in 384, that likelihood rises markedly – from about 1 in 20,000 for those under 30 to 1 in 2,741 in those 30 to 49, 1 in 224 for those 50 to 64 and 1 in 43 for those 65 and over.
“You might think 1 in 43, that's not so bad, but it's very bad,” said Nir Menachemi, a study author. “That's on a par with some very serious cancers.”
The research also points out why it's important for Hoosiers to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible because Indiana is still far from achieving herd immunity by natural means – people getting the virus and developing antibodies.
“If we have any hope of getting back to a normal life, it's the rapid uptake of the vaccine,” Menachemi said.
He added that between April and January, the percentage of Hoosiers who had contracted the virus both with and without symptoms rose from about 3% to about 16%.
No one is sure what level of the population must have been infected to achieve herd immunity, but it's believed to be between 70% and 80%, he said.
“So, we are not going to get there very easily,” Menachemi said, without widespread acceptance of a vaccine.
The bottom line, Halverson said, argues for one thing. “Get the vaccine as soon as you can,” he said.