How big a threat are breakthrough cases in Vermont?

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 6:53 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Are concerns about breakthrough COVID cases contributing to vaccine hesitancy in Vermont? While the state is leading the nation in vaccinations, the small number of breakthrough cases that are reported are causing concerns about just how effective the shots are.

Across Vermont, many are choosing to mask back up indoors over concerns of the delta variant, even if they are fully vaccinated. “I’m vaccinated. There is still that risk and that possibility that I could get COVID,” said Matthew Emerson, a visitor from North Carolina.

Olivia Gaudreault and Elie Pommier are pharmacy students from Maryland and have been on the front lines of administering doses. They’ve noticed some are skipping the shot because they’ve heard people can test positive either way. “I think it’s disappointing -- those who thought the vaccine was going to be it and life would return to normal, and now we’re having the new cases of the delta variant come through,” Gaudreault said.

Vermont health officials say breakthrough cases in Vermont remain extremely rare. According to health department data, out of some 469,000 fully-vaccinated Vermonters, breakthrough cases account for about 0.14%. Since January, about 2% of Vermont’s cases have been among the fully vaccinated - 658 cases total.

Health officials say some breakthrough cases are to be expected. “The vaccine is not designed to stop the virus from entering your body. It’s going to replicate some, and if you happen to get tested, you’re going to have pieces of that virus in your body,” said Dr. Trey Dobson, the chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Health Care. He says vaccines are intended to prevent people from getting seriously ill from the coronavirus, and that like the flu vaccine, the coronavirus vaccine is not 100% effective. The vaccine is not designed to prevent you from testing positive. It’s not designed to prevent you from getting a runny nose or a sore throat. It’s designed to prevent you from getting severe lung disease or getting hospitalized or even succumbing to the virus.”

Back in Montpelier, Gaudreault and Pommier say they understand some are concerned, but they say providing clear, consistent information is key. “Even though you’re not quarantining yourself from getting it, you’re quarantining if you do -- it’s less severe and the people around you are less likely to get it. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about protecting your neighbors and yourself,” Pommier said.

Vermont’s health department updates its breakthrough case data every two weeks. State leaders say it’s difficult to track that data more frequently because of hospital reporting schedules.

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