More Than 5,100 Breakthrough COVID Cases Reported in Mass.; at Least 80 Have Died

"What hasn't changed is that the vaccine is preventing severe disease and death," a Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist said

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More than 5,100 Massachusetts residents have tested positive for COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated against the virus, and at least 80 of them have died, state health officials said Tuesday night.

The latest update from the state Department of Public Health comes as coronavirus metrics continue to creep up in the Bay State while the more contagious delta variant keeps spreading in the U.S.

The so-called breakthrough cases — where fully vaccinated individuals test positive for coronavirus — have so far been rare, but are possible. And should even be expected, per the CDC.

As of July 17, a total of 5,166 breakthrough cases had been reported to the state DPH. Of those, 272 people were hospitalized and survived. Of the 80 people who died, 23 died without being hospitalized; 57 died following a hospital stay.

The death toll reflects 1.54% of the 5,166 confirmed breakthrough cases and 0.0018% of the 4,307,361 Bay State residents fully vaccinated as of July 20.

Health officials insist vaccine confidence should not be shaken, and say these numbers should be put into perspective. The overwhelming majority of the reported breakthrough cases -- more than 93% -- did not result in either hospitalization or death.

"I think we have to be cautious but we have to keep it in perspective," said Michael Curry, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.

Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron says since people have started rolling up their sleeves for COVID vaccines, the Boston hospital has only seen two patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in those who were fully vaccinated. Neither died.

"What hasn't changed is that the vaccine is preventing severe disease and death," Doron said.

Doron also acknowledged while people are getting nervous hearing about breakthrough cases, she really believes the focus right now needs to be on getting more people vaccinated here in Massachusetts and across the U.S.

That's what keeps us safe, she said. Doron also stressed that adverse events associated with the vaccines are extremely rare.

"You have a small but larger than the gamble you're taking with the vaccine the chance of ending up in the hospital, in an ICU on a ventilator or potentially dead," she said.

While COVID cases are going the wrong way, most of those getting very sick are people who have not been vaccinated. Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough of a warning to the unvaccinated community.

According to Curry, the time to prepare is now.

"We need businesses to urge people to get vaccinated. I think businesses have to make a judgement call and decide where necessary to have a mask on when people come in. I know we're not in a state of emergency where we once were, but we may need to get back to those strategies. Quite frankly, it saves lives."

If you're still on the fence about getting the vaccine, Curry says you should go to trusted sources to get the facts and talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

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