More than 11,000 fully inoculated people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19, outside of New York City, according to data provided to Newsday, reflecting a national uptick in "breakthrough" cases and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
Doctors told Newsday they believe most of these people don't become seriously ill because overall, the vaccines have proven to be up to 95% effective against COVID-19. It's still unclear how effective vaccines are against the now-dominant delta variant.
WHAT TO KNOW
More than 11,000 people in New York who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have tested positive in what are called “breakthrough” cases.
Health experts say fully vaccinated people are less likely to have severe illness if they have COVID-19.
The CDC said new data shows fully vaccinated people who are infected with the delta variant may have high viral loads and transmit the virus to others.
"The vaccine still works fantastic in terms of preventing serious complications across the board," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the department of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital. "The take-home message is get vaccinated. No one should say the vaccine doesn’t work."
11,025 The number of COVID-19 cases involving people who were vaccinated in New York State outside of New York City, according the New York State Department of Health. That equates to 0.18% of fully vaccinated people.
State Health Department officials said they do not yet know how many of the 11,025 cases, recorded since inoculations began in December, resulted in hospitalization or death and referred questions about New York City statistics to the New York City Health Department. A spokesman for that agency said Friday the number of breakthrough cases in the five boroughs was still being compiled and not immediately available.
More than 11 million people in New York have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state, including about 5 million in New York City. The state Health Department notes that the number of COVID-19 breakthrough cases it cites equals 0.18% of fully vaccinated people outside of New York City.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief public health and epidemiology officer at Northwell Health and chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said most people with breakthrough cases are not seriously ill and very few are in the hospital. He was not surprised to see these cases and outlined a "perfect storm" of factors.
6,587 The number of vaccinated patients who were hospitalized or died with a COVID-19 breakthrough infection, according to reports from the CDC received from 49 U.S. states and territories as of July 26. During that same time period, more than 163 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
For one, he said while the COVID-19 vaccines are 90% to 95% effective against the initial strains of the virus, they are less effective against the delta variant.
In addition, COVID-19 has continued to spread because not enough people have been vaccinated to facilitate herd immunity, Farber said, and many people have stopped wearing face coverings and social distancing in recent weeks.
"And now we have a group of people who are at least eight, if not nine months out from their initial vaccines and they may be losing immunity as time goes on," he said.
Also, a small group of immunosuppressed people — Farber estimated between 2% and 5% of the population — will not respond to the vaccine.
He thinks booster shots will eventually be needed to keep vulnerable groups, including immunocompromised and older people, protected against COVID-19.
CDC: 163M fully vaccinated
Determining how many people have become infected with COVID-19 after they are fully vaccinated is complicated because some people may have no symptoms, never feel sick and don’t have a reason to take a test in order to find out.
Others find out when they are tested for work, travel or a medical procedure.
The CDC has reported that more than 163 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Friday, the Washington Post reported on internal CDC documents that state the delta strain could cause more severe illness, and an estimate that there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among vaccinated Americans.
74% Percent of hospitalized or fatal breakthrough infections reported to the CDC that involved people 65 or older.
As of July 26, the CDC received reports from 49 U.S. states and territories totaling 6,587 patients with COVID-19 breakthrough cases who were hospitalized or died. Of those, 74% were in people aged 65 or older.
The CDC has stopped keeping track of mild or asymptomatic breakthrough cases, instead focusing on only those that result in hospitalization or death.
"Because what they were seeing was exactly what they expected," said Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine.
"Millions of people across the globe have died from COVID, but not millions of people who have been fully vaccinated," Donelan said. "The people that are in the hospitals now are primarily people that have been partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. I think that’s important for people to understand."
Variant draws concerns
The delta variant, originally identified in India in December 2020, was first detected in the United States in March, according to the CDC. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, recently termed the variant "one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career."
She released a statement Friday saying new data showed people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could still carry high viral loads if they are infected with the delta variant. The data came from a CDC report released Friday on an investigation of breakthrough cases discovered after Fourth of July activities in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
"High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with delta can transmit the virus," Walensky said in a statement.
Farber said the likelihood of seeing breakthrough cases increases when viruses are more contagious, because there is more virus spreading in the community.
He agreed with recommendations that fully vaccinated people wear masks when venturing into public indoor places with large groups of people.
"If everybody were vaccinated, this problem would go away because there would not be illness around to be transmitted," Glatt said.
Vaccination rates have slowed significantly in recent weeks. More than 4 million shots were administered on April 8; 2 million on May 21; and 1.2 million on June 11, according to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker. The number of shots administered fluctuated in July between a high of over 681,000 on one day and a low of 207,000 on another, according to the tracker.
But the tide could be turning. On Friday, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing that the average number of people getting their first COVID-19 shot each day is up 30% over the past week.
Farber said he is not confident that people who are strongly opposed to getting the vaccine can be convinced.
"We have an enormous database on the safety and efficacy of this vaccine and if that doesn’t convince people, I’m not sure what will," he said. "I think part of that solution will require more mandates. Closing doors to unvaccinated people and opening doors to vaccinated people could force them to reconsider."