Over 12,500 fully vaccinated Massachusetts residents have now tested positive for COVID-19 and an additional 18 have died, according to state data on breakthrough cases published Tuesday.
The Department of Public Health tracked a cumulative 12,641 confirmed COVID-19 infections among those fully vaccinated in the state to date and a total of 124 deaths. Both figures remain a tiny percentage -- about 0.29% -- of the more than 4.4 million people who have been vaccinated.
In the last week, 2,672 new breakthrough cases -- infections in people who have been vaccinated -- have been reported.
Since the first residents became fully vaccinated in January, DPH has counted 496 immunized residents hospitalized with COVID-19 cases. That number includes the 51 new breakthrough hospitalizations that were reported Tuesday among the fully vaccinated over the past week.
Tuesday's report pushed the state's cumulative confirmed COVID-19 caseload to 690,268 since the start of the pandemic and its death toll to 17,784.
Overall case numbers have been on the rise in Massachusetts and nationwide for weeks as the highly infectious delta variant spreads, including among those who are fully vaccinated, but health experts have repeatedly stressed that vaccinations reduce the risk of serious injury or death in the rare breakthrough cases.
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Massachusetts' COVID metrics, tracked on the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, are far lower than they were several months ago, though some have been rising in recent weeks. While breakthrough cases are being reported, officials say most new cases, and especially serious infections, are in the unvaccinated.
Tufts Medical Center Epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron put the rare deaths among fully vaccinated people into context, emphasizing that they span many months.
"We do need to put some of these numbers in a more realistic context just so people, you know, so people don't panic, so people make the right decisions based on the actual risk," Doron said.
She noted that some of the vaccinated patients reported as COVID hospitalizations and COVID deaths are actually due to other underlying issues, where COVID is identified on routine admission screening.
"In those cases, the positive test might be old, a false positive, an asymptomatic positive, a mild infection or an infection that is contributing to the illness or death of someone sick with another primary illness but not the sole cause of it," Doron said.
She said that while breakthrough cases are concerning, they're not as concerning as the need for vaccinations worldwide.
"Most data, with some notable exceptions, suggest that effectiveness against the Delta variant is maintained, with only negligible decrement compared to Alpha," Doron said of the vaccines.