40 Percent of People Who Get Severe COVID After Pfizer Have This in Common
A new study has found this similarity among breakthrough infections after Pfizer vaccination.
COVID vaccinations have provided a sense of relief to more than 159 million fully vaccinated people in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But there are still concerns. Reports of breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals have become more common as more people get their vaccines: At a Las Vegas pool party, eight fully vaccinated healthcare workers got COVID. In Texas, an outdoor wedding left six fully vaccinated people with the virus. Much is still unknown about these breakthrough infections, but new research has found a commonality among 40 percent of people who got severe COVID after being vaccinated with Pfizer.
The new study, published July 6 in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection, analyzed breakthrough infections following two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The Israeli researchers observed 152 patients from 17 different hospitals who had tested positive for COVID and been hospitalized, despite being vaccinated.
According to the study, 40 percent of these patients were immunosuppressed, which included those undergoing corticosteroid, chemotherapy, and anti-CD20 treatments, and recipients of organ transplants. Only 37 percent of those immunosuppressed with a breakthrough infection had favorable outcomes, while 47 percent had poor outcome (mechanical ventilation or death).
Other comorbidities were common in the breakthrough infections as well. Of the patients tested for COVID after Pfizer vaccination, 71 percent had hypertension, 48 percent had diabetes, 27 percent had congestive heart failure, 24 percent had chronic kidney and lung diseases, 19 percent had dementia, and 24 percent had cancer. Just 6 percent of the breakthrough infection patients had no comorbidities.
"We found that severe COVID-19 infection, associated with a high mortality rate, might develop in a minority of fully-vaccinated individuals with multiple comorbidities. Our patients had a higher rate of comorbidities and immunosuppression compared to previously reported non-vaccinated hospitalized COVID-19 patients," the study authors concluded.
The rate of severe breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals is still low, however. By the end of April, the Israeli Ministry of Health registry had recorded a total of 234 fully vaccinated patients hospitalized with severe COVID and 90 breakthrough infection deaths. At the same time, Israel had already fully vaccinated 5 million people.
In the U.S., the data is similar. According to the CDC, there have been 4,909 hospitalized COVID infections and 988 deaths in vaccinated people as of July 6. This is out of more than 157 million people who had been fully vaccinated against COVID by that time. The real threat still lies with those who are unvaccinated. During a July 8 White House press briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, reported that 99.5 percent of U.S. COVID deaths in the past couple of months were unvaccinated individuals.
"The sad reality is that, despite our progress, we're still losing people to this virus—which is especially tragic given, at this point, it is unnecessary and preventable," Walensky said. "Virtually all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the United States are now occurring among unvaccinated individuals."