They're called "breakthrough cases," and they're breakthroughs of the unwanted variety. The term refers to people diagnosed with COVID after being fully vaccinated. The CDC has reported its first such count, coming up with 5,800 cases, reports CNN. But maybe the more important stat to keep in mind is that the figure is out of about 77 million people who are fully vaccinated. That means only a fraction of a percentage of vaccinated people are getting sick, note health officials such as Anthony Fauci. Coverage:
- “You will always see some breakthrough infections no matter the efficacy of your vaccine,” Fauci tells the Wall Street Journal. “Before people get excited about the quantitative number of infections, they need to understand what the denominator is, and we’re going to see breakthroughs in numbers that are going to be well within the 90%, 95%, 97% effectiveness rates of the vaccines.”
- Of the 5,800 who have gotten sick, about 400 (7%) required hospitalization and 74 died.
- More than 40% of the breakthrough cases occurred in people older than 60, and 65% involved female patients. About 30% of the cases were asymptomatic.
- A few factors could explain infections after vaccinations, per the Journal. Older people or those with compromised immune systems might not produce a robust immune response after inoculation; being present at a superspreader event could overwhelm a person's defenses with a high viral load; or the person might be exposed to a more contagious variant. Even if none of those factors is present, no vaccine is 100% protective.
- Researchers, though, are still exploring exactly what's happening. "Is it people in the lower part of the vaccine response mixing with the variants?" Dr. Alexander Greninger of the University of Washington tells NPR. "I think it's a little bit more—honestly—mysterious."
- In an appearance on CNBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said people will probably need a third shot of the company's vaccine within 12 months of being fully vaccinated. Annual shots also are a possibility, he adds. It all depends on how the vaccine holds up over time amid new variants.
- In regard to breakthrough cases in particular, NPR gathers a quote from Dr. Saad Omer of Yale to sum things up. "The bottom line is: It's expected," he says. "No need to freak out."
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