COLORADO, USA — You may have heard of more people you know getting COVID recently – even if they’re vaccinated.
Breakthrough cases are becoming more common, but doctors said they’re not driving the surge. We now have the clearest picture of who’s still getting sick after getting the vaccine.
"Breakthrough infections play some part, but the important thing to emphasize is that they are the minor part," said Dr. Jared Eddy, director of Infection Control and Prevention at National Jewish Health. "We still think that the most important aspect of the spread of COVID is people who are unvaccinated."
There are about four times more COVID cases among unvaccinated people than those who are vaccinated as of late October, according to new data released by the state. Unvaccinated patients make up 80% of all people hospitalized with COVID right now, according to state data. The rest usually fall into a high risk category, according to Eddy.
"Many of the ones who end up hospitalized after vaccination are older or have medical conditions or they’re on some sort of immunosuppressant," said Eddy.
Of the unvaccinated patients hospitalized over the past month, the median age is 58. The median age of vaccinated patients is 73.
"The unvaccinated are younger. The unvaccinated are sicker. The unvaccinated are more in the ICU," said Dr. Richard Zane, chief of Emergency Services at UCHealth. "Those that are vaccinated have significant underlying medical conditions."
While state data shows the Moderna vaccine performs the best at preventing breakthrough infections, doctors said all vaccines are working well in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
"There is absolutely no ambiguity that vaccinations prevent hospitalizations and severe disease still," said Zane. "This is primarily a spike and a surge of the unvaccinated."
Part of what’s driving breakthrough infections is the time that’s passed since people got vaccinated.
Dr. Ozzie Grenardo is the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Centura Health. He said that’s part of the reason new data shows Hispanic communities have more breakthrough cases.
"We are seeing a lot more breakthrough cases because of waning immunity," said Grenardo. "Given that there are less booster shots being given to Hispanic, Latinx people, that then contributes to them being even more at risk, even though they’ve still been vaccinated."
The state is leaning into using monoclonal antibodies more as a treatment for COVID. If someone tests positive, those antibodies can help keep the symptoms mild.
Monoclonal antibodies are just starting to become readily available in Colorado. There wasn’t an ample supply earlier in the pandemic.
The state is working to dispatch buses all around to give people the opportunity to get the antibodies quickly and easily, as hospitals continue to fill up.
"This is the busiest that I’ve ever seen a hospital emergency department ever in my career," said Zane.
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