What are COVID-19 breakthrough cases?
As the delta variant continues to spread, we are hearing more about breakthrough infections among those who have been vaccinated. Why is this happening? And why get vaccinated in the first place if breakthrough infections can occur? Infectious disease expert Helmut Albrecht, MD, explained what you need to know.
What is a breakthrough infection?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a vaccine breakthrough infection is the detection of COVID-19 at least two weeks after completing all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Breakthroughs always occur unless the vaccine is 100% effective,” said Dr. Albrecht. “The rate of breakthrough infections, however, is astonishingly lower than the infection rate in the unvaccinated. The purpose of a vaccine is to prevent serious infections that lead to hospitalization or death. And it’s really astonishing how good the vaccine is at that. Protection is still way over 99%.”
Why are breakthrough infections happening?
The delta variant is much more contagious. This variant has much higher viral loads, so there’s a lot more virus in the saliva. For the most part, breakthrough infections are mild. Occasionally, severe infection can occur, but the overall data has shown an incredible reduction of death and severe illness among people who have been vaccinated.
Why is it still important to be vaccinated?
Dr. Albrecht said it’s important to be vaccinated to prevent hospitalizations. “Currently, about 88% of hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people. Among the other 12% who are vaccinated, many of them are admitted for something different and have very few COVID symptoms,” he said.
Are the vaccines safe?
Dr. Albrecht said the vaccines are extraordinarily safe, and there are a couple of numbers we should look at when weighing the risk and benefit:
- Confirmed deaths in the U.S. that were proven to be caused by the vaccines are less than 10.
- Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 are over 600,000.
“Several billion doses have given in the world, but several 100 million doses have now been given in the U.S. without major problems,” he said.
Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Find answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including how to get the shot.