Now that everyone in the city is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, questions are rising over how effective it really is. Some health experts are warning against COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough cases.
This week, New Yorkers 16 and up were welcomed to roll up their sleeves and get the COVID-19 vaccine. Seniors age 75 years old and up can walk into 25 city-run sites all over the five boroughs to get the vaccine. About 4.5 million New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated.
However, cases have been rising across the country for nearly a month now, especially among young people. A toxic mixture of new, more contagious variants of the virus and young unvaccinated people are to blame. In the city, the current positivity rate is 6.6% and the seven-day rolling average for positive COVID cases is over 3,100.
“This is the time for us to not abandon the things that have worked for us during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s particularly important right now when we still see a relatively high level of cases, but we have a chance to bend that curve downward,” said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dave Chokshi. “So, my message to my fellow New Yorkers is a simple one. Let’s keep doing the things that we know have worked over the last few months, and let’s take particular caution with those activities where it’s harder to wear a mask consistently and properly.”
Dr. Kitaw Demissie of SUNY Downstate Health Science University tells that AmNews says that an uptick in travel and recent holidays are to blame for the increase in cases.
“People have been traveling for spring break,” he said. “States have also been relaxing their COVID restrictions. Then there’s general fatigue. People are really tired and they’re feeling more comfortable now that more people are vaccinated. I see more people not having their mask on. I would expect the increase to continue for the coming few weeks because of the Easter and Passover holidays that just passed.”
Demissie added that the transmission of the COVID variants is also an issue. The New York and Brazilian variants are especially concerning because they have a high transmission rate. Demissie said more people being vaccinated is helping to slow the spread.
Reports are surfacing about people who have been fully vaccinated contracting COVID-19. The cases are called COVID-19 vaccine breakthroughs and are defined as people contracting COVID-19 who are appropriately vaccinated.
State officials in Michigan reported 246 COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough cases between January and March. Three of the patients died and were all over age 65. The individuals tested positive for COVID-19 14 or more days after getting their second vaccine dose.
In South Carolina, over 100 COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough cases have been reported. Epidemiologists in Washington State are reporting over 100 breakthrough cases since February. Cases have also been reported in Texas, Florida, Idaho and Minnesota.
Health experts say that COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough cases are rare and that out of the millions of people that have been getting vaccines, a small number of breakthrough cases are popping up.
“Normally when we say the vaccine is 95% effective, it means that among all people who took the vaccine, not everyone will be completely protected,” Demissie said. “There are some people who can develop COVID-19 still after being infected because it’s not 100%. We have a very small number of cases who develop COVID-19 after being vaccinated. Even if they have it, they will be asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms.”
The added concern about the COVID-19 breakthrough cases is adding even more hesitancy to those who are opting to not take the vaccine.
A Black airline worker for a major carrier spoke to the AmNews and said that even though he experienced a severe case of COVID-19 in 2020, he’s not getting vaccinated despite having a job where he interacts with the public.
“My doctor was pushing me to take it and I don’t trust it,” the airline worker said. “They pushed this vaccine out and I think it was out of desperation to get everybody to calm down. We don’t know what’s going to happen five years down the line. The body knows how to fight things off until it can’t fight it anymore.”
The airline worker said because he had COVID-19 he has the antibodies and feels he doesn’t need the vaccine. He’s not alone. In December 2020, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 35% of Black Americans said they don’t plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We don’t trust what the medical community has done to use,” the airline worker said. “I would never tell anybody not to take the vaccine. My father got it. He’s 85 years old and he should get it. If something is wrong with it, they know and they still won’t say anything.”