Banner Health leader: Over 80% of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated

Jan 25, 2022, 9:37 AM
Health care workers check on a patient in the acute care COVID-19 unit at Harborview Medical Center...
Health care workers check on a patient in the acute care COVID-19 unit at Harborview Medical Center on Jan. 21, 2022, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona’s largest health care network is seeing an uptick in breakthrough hospitalizations, but the vast majority of those admitted with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated.

“With the omicron variant, we are seeing a slight increase in the number of individuals requiring hospitalization who are having a breakthrough infection,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer at Banner Health, said during a virtual briefing Monday.

“Our numbers were a little bit higher of who was unvaccinated in the prior wave.”

Bessel said 83% of Banner’s hospitalized COVID patients and 87% of its COVID ICU patients aren’t fully vaccinated. During a briefing two weeks ago, she said roughly 90% of Banner’s COVID inpatients weren’t fully vaccinated.

“Vaccination continues to be your best defense to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID infection,” she said. “Boosters will maximize your protection.”

The highly contagious omicron variant now is responsible for nearly all COVID-19 cases in the state and beyond. While it’s been fueling an unprecedented spike in new cases, omicron infections are less likely to result in serious illness than previous versions of the coronavirus.

In fact, Bessel said it’s likely there would be more COVID patients needing ICU care if omicron hadn’t overtaken the delta variant, which was causing a higher rate of serious illnesses.

Statewide, there were 616 COVID patients in ICU beds as of Tuesday’s update of the Arizona Department of Health Services pandemic dashboard, 14% lower than the December peak of the delta wave.

“We are very thankful for the fact that … our intensive care unit population is actually at a lesser level than it was in prior surges,” Bessel said. “But we want to ask everybody to remain vigilant at this time.”

Although there hasn’t been a surge in COVID cases needing ICU treatment during the omicron wave, the number of inpatients with the virus has risen by more than 50% statewide since the start of the year, according to ADHS data, and relief might still be a few weeks way.

“Hospitalizations typically lag overall cases in the market by 1-2 weeks,” she said. “For this reason, our forecasting models predict that hospitalizations from this most recent omicron surge will peak around mid-February.”

Here’s the latest data on the pandemic in Arizona (hospital, case, death, testing and vaccination statistics are based on Tuesday morning’s update of the Arizona Department of Health Services COVID-19 dashboard; seven-day averages are based on tracking by The New York Times):

COVID-19 cases

  • Documented pandemic total – 1,781,274
  • Daily new reports – Tuesday: 13,972; One day earlier: 14,750; One week earlier: 23,836; Pandemic high: 27,681 (Jan. 22, 2022)
  • Seven-day average – Monday: 20,778; One day earlier: 20,394; One week earlier: 18,634; Pandemic high: 20,778 (Jan. 24, 2022)

COVID-19 deaths

  • Documented pandemic total – 25,624
  • Daily new reports – Tuesday: 0; One day earlier: 1; One week earlier: 183; Pandemic high: 335 (Jan. 12, 2021)
  • Seven-day average – Monday: 59; One day earlier: 59; One week earlier: 55; Pandemic high: 175 (Jan. 13, 2021)

COVID-19 hospitalizations

  • COVID inpatients – Monday: 3,526; One day earlier: 3,432; One week earlier: 3,228; Pandemic high: 5,082 (Jan. 11, 2021)
  • COVID ICU patients – Monday: 616; One day earlier: 613; One week earlier: 619; Pandemic high: 1,183 (Jan. 11, 2021)

Statewide hospital capacity

  • Inpatients beds available – Monday: 534 (6% of capacity); One day earlier: 504 (6%); One week earlier: 551 (6%)
  • Percentage of inpatient beds with COVID patients – Monday: 40%; One day earlier: 39%; One week earlier: 37%
  • ICU beds available – Monday: 107 (7% of capacity); One day earlier: 128 (8%); One week earlier: 92 (6%)
  • Percentage of ICU beds with COVID patients – Monday: 37%; One day earlier: 37%; One week earlier: 37%

Laboratory diagnostic testing

  • Weekly percent positivity – Samples taken this week: 23%; Last week: 34%; Two weeks ago: 33%; Pandemic high (for a completed week): 34% (Jan. 16-22, 2022)
  • Find a testing site: ADHS (statewide)


  • Percentage of eligible Arizonans fully vaccinated – As of Tuesday: 59.8%; One day earlier: 59.8%
  • Percentage of eligible Arizonans with at least one shot – As of Tuesday: 72.4%; One day earlier: 72.3%
  • Find a vaccine site: ADHS (statewide); Maricopa County Public Health (metro Phoenix)

Additional details

The ADHS daily case and death updates can cover multiple days of reporting because of data processing procedures and aren’t meant to represent the actual activity over the previous 24 hours. The hospitalization numbers posted each morning are reported electronically the previous evening by hospitals across the state.

The actual caseload is likely higher than officially reported because ADHS data is based mainly on electronic laboratory reporting and doesn’t include results from home kits unless individuals report them to their health care providers.

Vaccines have proven to reduce the likelihood of a COVID infection causing serious illness or death, even with the highly contagious omicron variant.

The minimum age for vaccination is 5 for Pfizer and 18 for Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. Boosters are approved, and highly encouraged, for individuals who received their second Pfizer (ages 12 and up only) or Moderna doses at least five months ago or the Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago.

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Banner Health leader: Over 80% of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated