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People are contracting COVID-19 after vaccination; doctors explain why

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 5:49 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Although the efficacy rating for each of the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. is high, there’s no guarantee you won’t still contract the virus.

The North Dakota Department of Health reports cases of people catching COVID and being hospitalized even after they are fully vaccinated. However, health experts say it is rare.

A “breakthrough” COVID case is defined as a person who tests positive for COVID at least 14 days after they are fully vaccinated.

So far, there have been 103 breakthrough cases in North Dakota. Of those, six people were hospitalized. State health experts say their symptoms varied.

“We have some people that are completely asymptomatic. We do have some people that are quite a bit sicker. It still kind of depends on the age of the person, the underlying health conditions. All that stuff that kind of affects your COVID outcomes, still affects you the same even after you’ve been vaccinated,” said North Dakota Department of Health Immunization Surveillance Coordinator Jenny Galbraith.

Johnson & Johnson’s efficacy rate is 72% overall and 86% in preventing severe disease.

Moderna reports 94% overall efficacy and 100% in preventing severe disease.

Finally, Pfizer reports 95% overall efficacy and 100% in preventing severe cases. Health experts say “efficacy” numbers reflect results from clinical trials, which should not be mistaken for “effectiveness,” or real world application.

“We have kind of perfect solutions and perfect things going on for us in clinical trials. We know that once you get out into the real world, it’s not going to be perfect. That’s not going to be what it is. So, we kind of expect that we’re going to see breakthrough cases,” Galbraith said.

Infectious disease experts say immune response plays a role in how well the vaccine will work.

“There are individuals who will mount a very vigorous immune response to the vaccine, develop protective antibodies, protective lymphocytes, and that’s going to be enough to prevent them from running into trouble. On the other hand, there is a small group of people for which the immune response just isn’t strong enough,” said Sanford Health Infectious Disease Consultant Dr. Noe Mateo.

Dr. Mateo says there’s a possibility the vaccine is working well, but mutant variants are causing infection.

“The vaccine is against a specific target. What if your target moves? Next thing you know, you’re dealing with variants of concern, mutant variants, viruses that have a slightly different composition in terms of their spike protein. And, there’s a chance that the vaccine doesn’t work as well for those new infections,” said Mateo.

Health experts say although there’s a chance you could catch COVID, all three vaccines are worth getting and will help end the pandemic sooner rather than later.

Galbraith says the Health Department doesn’t keep track of which vaccine each breakthrough case received. However, she did confirm that there have been breakthrough cases from all three vaccines.

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