How breakthrough cases show that COVID-19 vaccines still work

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 7,000 COVID-19 breakthrough cases in the state since the start of the pandemic.

Much of that is blamed on the current surge stemming from the delta variant of the disease.

While some may fear this means the COVID-19 vaccines are not working, the vaccines were never meant to prevent infection altogether. Their main purpose has always been to keep people out of hospitals and from dying. The latest data shows they are still doing their job.

By comparison, while flu vaccines may only provide 40 percent to 60 percent protection, the COVID-19 vaccines boast protection above 75 percent.

State and federal health officials say more than 90 percent of COVID-19 cases are in unvaccinated people.

“We’re still learning a lot about the pandemic, the delta variant and how the vaccines work,” said Dr. Abhi Mehrotra, assistant medical director of the emergency room at UNC Health and clinical professor with the UNC School of Medicine.

The CDC reports 6,587 breakthrough cases have resulted in hospitalization or death so far. It stated 19 percent of those infections were asymptomatic.

But the CDC has not published the total number of breakthrough cases. That means we don’t know what percentage of breakthrough cases nationwide are in fully vaccinated people.

“The problem is, many of those breakthrough cases are asymptomatic. So, we don’t know that they have contracted the coronavirus, which means the vaccine is effective, it’s working. Or, they’re minimally symptomatic and they may not get tested,” said Mehrotra.

In North Carolina, the data is more detailed. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 7,297 breakthrough cases so far. Of that, they reported 383 hospitalizations and 66 deaths. The breakthrough cases represent 0.1 percent of all fully vaccinated people in the state.

“The vast majority of those cases, those patients are not sick enough to be hospitalized in this scenario. So that’s kind of what we’re seeing, and it lines up with the nationwide trend,” Mehrotra said.

A study out of Israel found 19 percent of COVID-19 breakthrough patients still felt symptoms up to six weeks after initial infection. Some of those symptoms included headache, fatigue, and muscle pain. It also found much of those infections were mild.

Finding breakthrough cases is a matching game. The state takes their COVID-19 positive patient list and compares it to their vaccine database.

“The data is continuing to come in and we’re going to continue to ask questions about how do we improve what we’re doing? How do we protect folks?” said Mehrotra.

The most important thing to him right now is getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

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