SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Sunday will mark one month since COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opened to anyone 16 and older in Georgia. Since then, over five million vaccine doses have been administered, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Over three million Georgia residents have received at least one dose while over two million are fully vaccinated.
As vaccinations continue across the Peach State, we are learning more about breakthrough cases of COVID-19, or infections that happen to a person who is fully vaccinated. Healthcare professionals have seen rare instances of these infections.
The Coastal Health District consists of eight counties. They have been tracking breakthrough cases since vaccinations began, and they say to date they’ve recorded 21.
“Really the message should be that this is an extremely rare event, but it’s also an expected event,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Health.
Dr. Thacker says we know vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. The proof is in the numbers. Dr. Davis says they have given more than 120,000 vaccines alone and just 21 breakthrough cases were identified, which would be about 0.02 percent.
“The vaccines are incredibly effective and you know they are still showing roughly 94, 95 percent effectiveness in preventing severe illness and death and even mild illness for that matter. So I would say they are effective, but no vaccine is 100 percent effective. We’re not bulletproof, we don’t have an invisible forcefield or force shield around us,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, Director of the Coastal Health District.
While we don’t know everything about these breakthrough cases, we do know they tend to be milder, happen to a wide range of ages, both men and women and not just because of travel. The variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 is another concern.
“What we’re seeing is that many of these folks that have breakthrough infection are having it with one of these variants in part because it’s the main circulating strain,” said Dr. Thacker. “There may be some evidence that some of the variants are a little bit more effective at evading our immune system especially those that have been vaccinated or have had infection in the past but not enough to suggest that this is going to represent failure of our vaccines to protect us.”
Dr. Davis says the message is still that the vaccines work and we need more people to sign up and get theirs.
“The more people we can get vaccinated and the more we can squelch the replication of the virus in the general population, the less likely we are to continue to see the spread of those and possibly new variants,” he said.