Doctors urging vaccination as breakthrough hospitalizations rise

Vaccinated people who get COVID-19 are less likely to be hospitalized.

Posted: Sep 9, 2021 1:55 PM
Updated: Sep 9, 2021 8:09 PM

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- Doctors in Western Oregon are encouraging more people to get vaccinated as the number of breakthrough cases rise.

Breakthrough cases are when fully-vaccinated people still become infected with COVID-19.

On Sept. 8, PeaceHealth broke down the current number of people hospitalized by vaccination status at RiverBend Hospital.

The graphic shows 20 out of 87, or nearly 23%, of hospitalizations being from breakthrough cases.

Dr. Bob Pelz, an infectious disease specialist at RiverBend, said this should not discourage people from getting vaccinated.

"There's a number of things to keep in mind," Pelz said. "The more people in the population that are unvaccinated, the more likely it is that somebody vaccinated will get an infection."

This is because the current vaccines available in the U.S. were created to combat the original strain of the virus of SARS-CoV-2. So if an unvaccinated person carries the virus and it mutates, it can still infect a vaccinated person.

However, Pelz said even from those fully vaccinated in hospitals, they are seeing far milder symptoms. He said they are also less likely to be on a ventilator or in the intensive care unit.

McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center said they've seen a small increase in breakthrough cases from the past.

"There's probably a couple reasons for the increase in breakthrough infections," said McKenzie-Willamette's infectious disease specialist Dr. Buck Scholtz. "One of them is the arrival of the Delta variant in July which we know is more transmissble. It just happened to be the perfect storm of around the same time our mask restrictions went away."

Overall, doctors in Lane County said although breakthrough hospitalizations are more frequent than before, most of those patients recover quickly.

Dr. Patrick Luedtke, the senior public health officer for Lane County, said the current trends of breakthrough infections were expected because of the vaccines being roughly 90% effective.

"Overall, over the course of nine months of this vaccine, they're 92% effective," Luedtke said.

Lane County Public Health reports for the week of Feb.  8, the percentage of new cases that were breakthrough were 0.2%. For the week of Aug. 9, that percentage rose to 26%. But Luedtke said nearly everyone vaccinated was able to avoid death.

"We are seeing more breakthroughs from Delta than Alpha," Luedtke said. "These vaccines are really effective at preventing death. Less than one percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the country are from those who are fully vaccinated."

Good Samaritan Hospital in Benton and Linn counties said they've also seen breakthrough cases rise but non-breakthrough cases are rising much faster.

"The number of breakthrough hospitalizations has remained low, at or below 10 percent," said Good Samaritan Hospital's chief medical officer Dr. Adam Brady. 

All the doctors in Western Oregon who spoke with KEZI said while they are concerned about breakthrough infections, the vaccines are still proving to be effective.

Doctors also said booster shots on the way may reduce breakthrough cases but the priority is still getting those who are unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves.

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