Pennsylvania releases new data on breakthrough COVID-19 cases

In Pennsylvania 6,472 people died due to COVID-19 from January until September. Out of them, 213 were fully vaccinated.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania residents who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus were far more likely to contract COVID-19, become hospitalized and die than those who got the shot, officials said Tuesday in the first public release of data on so-called "breakthrough" infections in the state.

Health officials recognize that, as the number of people vaccinated goes up, we will start to see more breakthrough cases. Alison Beam, Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of Health, says no vaccine is 100% effective, but the goal is prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death.

More than 35,000 people who were fully vaccinated have tested positive for the virus since January, representing only 6% of all cases statewide, according to the data released Tuesday.

Between January to September, 6,472 people died due to COVID-19. Out of them, 213 were fully-vaccinated, which means 97% of people who died due to the virus were unvaccinated or only-partially vaccinated.

Unvaccinated people and those who have yet to be fully vaccinated had seven times the risk of contracting the virus and nearly eight times the risk of death as those offered full protection by a vaccine, according to the data.

The news conference Tuesday was held in Lancaster County where they're seeing an increase in hospitalizations due to low vaccination rates. Less than 50% of the population there is fully vaccinated.

The relative scarcity of milder breakthrough cases among residents who got the vaccine shows the shots are working, state health officials said. They wanted to get across the message for anyone still unvaccinated to get the shots.

"The vaccines are our best tool to protect ourselves against the virus, keep our children learning in school, keep our workforce in person and to foster social and economic recovery," said Beam. "My hope is is that this data encourages everyone who has not been vaccinated to speak to their doctor about getting the vaccine as soon as possible."

Data also shows 95% of people hospitalized in the state are not fully vaccinated. Data from Lancaster General Hospital shows the average age of a patient hospitalized with COVID-19 who is unvaccinated is 56. The average age for vaccinated patients is 71.

Top GOP lawmakers had requested the data on breakthroughs. Republicans, who have been skeptical of Wolf's pandemic measures - including, most recently, his statewide mask mandate for schools - wrote to Wolf last week that "all Pennsylvanians, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, deserve to know how their respective group is performing."

Wolf promised his administration would release the information, and went further.

Noting that vaccination efforts are lagging in some areas of the state - including those with GOP representation - he vowed to release vaccination reports by legislative district "so that the General Assembly and public can better understand how well each member's district is performing."

The hospitalization statistics released Tuesday account for data reported by 55% of Pennsylvania hospitals representing 80% of the state's acute-care beds.

Pennsylvania will continue tracking breakthrough cases and update numbers on their website. This will also help determine if and when people may need a booster shot of the vaccine.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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