SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is approaching the 1 million mark for residents who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine.
Of that number, more than 540,000 Utahns have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Utah Department of Health on Friday. But as that number rises, Utah is not alone in the documented “groundbreaking” COVID-19 cases. These are new cases of COVID-19 even after fully vaccinated.
Dr. Angela Dunn, a state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, confirmed Thursday that there have been 97 confirmed breakthrough cases among the 521,000 Utahns fully vaccinated at that time, representing less than 0.02% of the population of Utah fully vaccinated through Thursday’s numbers. .
“This is really amazing and speaks to the great effectiveness of the vaccines that we have,” he said of the low percentage of advancement cases.
Many other states in the US also reported low numbers of breakthrough cases. The Washington State Department of Health acknowledged Tuesday that it had 102 documented breakthrough cases; the Star Tribune reported last week that there were 89 cases in Minnesota.
There are a few reasons for breakthrough cases. First, medical experts are quick to say that no vaccine is 100% effective; Health department officials did not specify which vaccine was administered in any of the breakthrough cases, but it is possible with any vaccine.
Second, public health officials have warned that variants of the coronavirus could possibly make vaccines less effective.
So far, only two of the groundbreaking cases have been sequenced and both were variants that originated in California, known as B.427 / 429. That is one of the variants that the state health department has yet to provide information on in their data, and one less researched than the better-known variants that originated in Brazil, South Africa, or the United Kingdom.
“There is some concern with emerging variants that there will be less effectiveness among vaccines, but they are still very effective vaccines, which is fantastic,” he said. “We are not concerned that (variants) decrease effectiveness so much that we would have to change our public health strategy … science shows us that vaccines are still effective against variants.”
State health officials were still optimistic that the vaccine was doing its job even after breakthrough cases emerged.
Dunn said there was a recent cluster of more than 15 breakthrough cases at a long-term care facility in Utah, but none of the people who tested positive had any symptoms. It was an indication that the vaccine was preventing serious illness even if fully vaccinated people contracted COVID-19.
“This is a population that, before vaccination, would have a really high mortality rate,” he said. “This time, due to the vaccine, none of them had symptoms.”
There have still been five hospitalizations among the 97 documented cases in Utah. Dunn said the five were “older adults with underlying health conditions,” making it clear whether their hospitalizations were related to COVID-19 or due to other conditions.
The state plans to continue tracking and sequencing breakthrough cases in the future, which could allow public health experts to learn more about how the variants influence the vaccination process. Dunn also encouraged Utahns to get the vaccine as soon as possible, which can help reduce the risk of spreading variants.
Dunn said: “This will keep us moving in the right direction and end this pandemic.”