There have been numerous reports of breakthrough cases of COVID-19. These are individuals who test positive for the virus even after full vaccination. While certainly disconcerting, experts warn that the vaccines are not 100% effective and the more contagious Delta variant, which currently accounts for 83% of new COVID-19 cases across the country, may increase your risk of infection. The good news is that even if you do get COVID, the odds of becoming seriously ill are extremely rare thanks to the vaccines.
According to NPR, recent reports of breakthrough cases have come from the White House, Congress, the Olympics and Major League Baseball. But the number of occurrences does not overly concern healthcare experts and officials.
“I haven’t seen any signals in the U.S. indicating that they are occurring at the levels that would give us concern that the vaccine effectiveness is going down,” said Dr. Saad B. Omer, an infectious disease epidemiologist and director of the Yale Institute for Global Health. “It’s not surprising to see a substantial number of cases in the vaccinated when vaccination rate is high.”
Studies have shown that our current vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant. A June study from the U.K. found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine was 96% effective against hospitalization from COVID-19. So, if you do get infected, the vaccine should help you from getting seriously sick, says NPR.
“Those mild breakthroughs, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study three weeks ago, are accompanied by mild viral loads and less — much less — symptoms,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco.
As of July 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that out of 159 million fully vaccinated Americans, there have been 5,492 documented cases of fully vaccinated people being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, and 75% of these cases were people over the age of 65, according to NPR.
According to ABC7, a Los Angeles-based news affiliate, the California Department of Public Health reports that 20.7 million Californians have been fully vaccinated. Of those, approximately 14,000 have since been infected with COVID-19. That is about 1 in every 1,441 fully vaccinated individuals.
Only a fraction of these, 843, have been hospitalized and fewer, 88, have died. Statistically that means fully vaccinated people have a 1 in 235,227 chance of dying from COVID-19.
“It’s important for people to recognize that the vaccine is very strongly protective against severe illness and death,” said Dr. Matt Willis, an epidemiologist and public health director for Marin County in Northern California. “And when we are seeing these breakthrough cases, they are asymptomatic, no symptoms at all, or mildly symptomatic like cold symptoms.”
Dr. Willis added that the vast majority of those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 after receiving their vaccines were elderly or immunocompromised, and that in his county they have not seen a relationship between breakthrough cases and the type of vaccine received.
The expert said that people should think of immunity as a continuum and the vaccine as a dimmer switch, according to ABC7.
“It’s more like a dimmer switch than it is a light switch,” Dr. Willis explained. “It’s not on and off. It’s on a continuum of protection. And I think that’s an important message because otherwise, people might interpret breakthrough cases as a sign the vaccine is not effective.”
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