The proportion of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations among vaccinated Pennsylvania residents rose sharply last month, though the shot remained broadly protective, according to new statewide health data obtained by The Associated Press.
The latest Department of Health data on so-called “breakthrough” infections shows that between Sept. 5 and Oct. 4, vaccinated people represented just over a quarter — 26% — of more than 135,000 new infections and nearly 5,000 hospital admissions across the state. Death statistics for the last 30 days were not available because of lags in reporting and verification.
When the Health Department released its initial set of data on breakthrough cases Sept. 14, just 6% of cases and 5% of hospitalizations since January were among vaccinated residents.
State health officials attributed COVID-19’s increased impact on vaccinated people to the rise of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, along with waning immunity among some populations that have received the vaccine, among other factors.
“The vaccines were designed to prevent severe illness and hospitalization, but no vaccine is 100%,” the state’s acting physician general, Dr. Denise Johnson, said in a phone interview. “As we have more people vaccinated, there will be more cases in those vaccinated people. It doesn’t mean the vaccines aren’t working. They’re working as designed.”
She said the data reinforced the case for booster shots. Last month, U.S. health officials approved a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older, along with younger people with health or working conditions that put them at higher risk.
“We know that the vaccines do give a great measure of protection,” Johnson said. “Even now, with the delta variant, with the waning immunity, the cases that we have, the hospitalizations that we have, people who are really ill, are still largely the unvaccinated.”
Over the last month and since the beginning of 2021, the state’s data indicates that Pennsylvania residents who remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus were far more likely to contract COVID-19, become hospitalized and die than those who got the shot.