Stamford Advocate

Behind the numbers in the breakthrou­gh infection spike


In the first 18 days of this month, the state documented 2,822 people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and still got the illness.

For all of this month, the number of so-called breakthrou­gh cases will at least triple the July total of 1,612, according to data the state compiled. And July was two-and-a-half times the next highest month, April, which had 654 breakthrou­gh cases.

So we’re seeing a spike in breakthrou­gh cases in Connecticu­t. Why? Blame the delta variant. Blame complacenc­y by vaccinated people who thought they had some kind of kryptonite shields coursing through their veins.

On the bright side, blame the fact that Connecticu­t is pushing toward 2.5 million people vaccinated, which should put the few thousand cases in perspectiv­e. Even with far fewer eligible people unvaccinat­ed — about 900,000 and dropping — we’re still seeing twice as many cases in unvaccinat­ed people as we see in people who have courageous­ly sat for the painless jabs.

“In the end, the message is still that if you’re unvaccinat­ed, you’re still a lot more at risk than if you’re vaccinated,” said Dr. Lynn Sosa, deputy

state epidemiolo­gist at the state Department of Public Health.

That’s true, with a warning and a caveat to the warning. The warning: Numbers show the vaccine just isn’t as protective as it was in the spring, when we were begging the state for the shot, rather than the state begging us to take it.

Sure enough, on Tuesday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report showing the vaccines — mostly the mRNA ones from Pfizer and Moderna — dropped from 91 percent effective before the delta variant became dominant, to 66 percent effective in the grip of delta.

That follows studies in Israel and elsewhere that show the same thing. And it’s roughly what the numbers in Connecticu­t suggest: In July and August, you were four to five times more likely to catch a case of COVID if you were unvaccinat­ed than if you were.

The caveat: We don’t have the data to compare what’s happening from month to month as all this unfolds. Different coronaviru­s bugs, different behavior as we returned to parties and crowded bars, different people getting the illness in different places.

“It’s important to see the numbers in context,” Sosa said.

Deaths are even harder to compare over time because as of mid-August, the state documented just 49 among people fully vaccinated, including 18 in August.

And we have different methods of collecting data. Remember, friends, we’ve never done this before, although I studied the monthly charts from the 1918 flu epidemic and they did a nice job of collecting numbers all things considered.

For example, waaaaay back in the first week of August, the state reported a grand total 1,171 so-called breakthrou­gh COVID-19 infections since the start of vaccinatio­ns, with just 38 in the six days ending Aug. 3.

That can’t be right, state Sen. Mathew Lesser, DMiddletow­n, tweeted, after I reported those numbers. He figured he personally knew about eight people with COVID that very week who were fully vaccinated, making the 38 number obviously too small.

Turned out Lesser was right. The state DPH, to its credit, went back and matched up all COVID reports with actual vaccinatio­n data and found 6,137 breakthrou­gh cases from February through the middle of last week. That includes the 2,822 cases for the first half of this month.

Lesser, a strong proponent of expanded, statespons­ored health coverage, thinks a big part of the breakthrou­gh problem is parents with kids under 12 — who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccinatio­ns. Those kids bring home the illness along with harmless scrapes on their knees.

And of course, as always, we don’t know how many people actually have COVID-19 because folks aren’t seeking out tests. So we’ll never know how many breakthrou­gh infections are in our midst, even if Connecticu­t is far ahead of just about all the other states in testing.

“We just need a much more robust testing regime,” Lesser said.

What are the numbers? As of Friday, data the state

DPH showed me reveal that 149 out of every 100,000 Connecticu­t residents fully vaccinated contracted a case of COVID in the first half of August — well under the 465 out of 100,000 who were not vaccinated and came down with the illness in that same time.

For July, the state’s numbers show COVID cases in 316 of every 100,000 unvaccinat­ed (if you’re using the old Dewey Decimal system, that’s three-tenths of 1 percent) and 85 of every 100,000 who were fully vaccinated.

So, a great deal for the low, low price you pay for the vaccinatio­n. There is no national or state-by-state measure of breakthrou­ghs and if you see one, don’t trust it. Every state does things differentl­y.

Hospital numbers show that in recent weeks 25 percent to 30 percent of people sick enough to be admitted were vaccinated. That suggests that although infections in inoculated people may be less severe, they’re not way less severe.

As for cases, it’s actually a bit better than the state reports in favor of vaccinatio­ns. By my calculatio­ns, using the actual, reported number of people fully vaccinated and the reported number of cases, the first half of August showed 617 cases for every 100,000 unvaccinat­ed and 128 per 100,000 vaccinated, not 149 per 100,000.

In my method, each month shows a similar difference with the state’s figures. But of course, the message is the same: You’re three or four or five or six times safer with the inoculatio­ns. Not ten or 20 times safer, like we thought, but safer nonetheles­s.

There are lots of ways to look at the numbers and lots we still don’t know. In the coming days and weeks, we hope the public health team of Sosa, Geballe, Gifford & Lamont reveal the following: A breakdown of who’s getting the breakthrou­gh cases by age within each month; and by location within the state. Are there many clusters of breakthrou­ghs, like we saw in Provinceto­wn, Mass.?

How about the number of weeks people were vaccinated before they tested positive? That matters a lot as we look at boosters. And, is there a pattern that shows improperly administer­ed doses?

We build this machine as we fly it, nowhere more than in measuring breakthrou­gh infections.

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