74 Percent of Vaccinated People Who Get Severe COVID Have This in Common
CDC data shows these people who suffer breakthrough infections are often hospitalized.
Thanks to the highly transmissible nature of the Delta variant, the national daily average of COVID cases has been on the rise for just over a month, especially among those who are unvaccinated. Fortunately, mounting data has found that most breakthrough cases affecting those who have received their shots are less likely to result in hospitalization or death. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shed some light on the rare instances of severe COVID cases in fully vaccinated people, finding that nearly three-quarters of them have one thing in common.
According to CDC data collected from 49 states and territories, there have been 7,525 cases of breakthrough COVID infections that have led to hospitalization or death as of August 2. The agency found that 5,557—or 74 percent overall—of the severe cases in vaccinated people were reported in patients aged 65 or older.
While the CDC said the data likely represented a "snapshot" of the situation and was an undercount of actual breakthrough cases, it still provided compelling evidence as to the ability of the shots to protect people overall. "Vaccine breakthrough cases are expected," the agency wrote. "COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control. However, no vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people. There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized, or die from COVID-19."
The findings come as some experts continue to push for vaccine boosters for people who are most susceptible to the virus, including seniors and those who are immunocompromised. During an Aug. 6 interview with CNBC, Larry Brilliant, MD, a noted epidemiologist and founder and CEO of pandemic response consultancy Pandefense Advisory, argued that such groups should be getting another shot "right away" given the Delta variant's ability to spread so easily.
"It is this category of people that we've seen create multiple mutations when the virus goes through their body," Brilliant said. "So those people, I would say, should be given a third dose, a booster right away—as quickly as moving the vaccines to those countries that haven't had a very high chance to buy them or have access to them. I consider those two things about equal," he added.
Other officials agreed that boosters might be needed but disagreed on a timeline for rolling out the extra doses. "As soon as they see that level of durability of protection goes down, then you will see the recommendation to vaccinate those individuals," Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, said during an Aug. 8 interview on NBC's Meet the Press, arguing that more data was needed before a decision was made. "[But] The vaccines are still doing what you originally wanted them to do—to keep you out of the hospital [and] to prevent you from getting seriously ill," he added.
Fortunately, a wide range of recent studies has found that currently available vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are still largely able to maintain protection against the Delta variant for most recipients. One Public Health England (PHE) study found that Pfizer was still 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease and 96 percent effective against hospitalization with the variant after two doses. And another larger study conducted by researchers at Imperial College London found that fully vaccinated people were half as likely to test positive for COVID-19 even if they hadn't shown any signs of symptoms.