Oregon health officials are now reporting four cases of COVID-19 in individuals who have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
The cases, called “breakthrough cases,” come as no surprise, as no vaccine for any disease is completely effective, according to Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist who spoke to reporters in a briefing last Friday.
“These breakthrough cases are not unexpected,” Sidelinger said. “No vaccine provides 100% protection, and clinical trials of both vaccines presently in use included breakthrough cases. In those cases, even though the participants got COVID, the vaccines reduced the severity of illness.”
Those clinical trials have shown that around 95% of people who get vaccinated don’t end up catching COVID-19 — and that those who do catch it have significantly milder symptoms than if they hadn’t, Sidelinger said.
Officials from the Oregon Health Authority say two of the cases were reported in Yamhill County, and two were reported in Lane County. That’s just four breakthrough cases of over 177,000 people the state’s reporting are fully vaccinated against the virus.
Oregon is one of the first states in the nation to report breakthrough cases, since most states have only just begun to have people who fall into the “fully vaccinated” category, which comes two weeks after their second dose of the vaccine.
Still, Sidelinger said the vaccine is still going to be the state’s most important tool in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More Oregonians are getting vaccinated by the day, and the existing vaccines offer unprecedented levels of effectiveness,” Sidelinger said. “The quickest and most direct route out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated while you’re eligible.”
Vaccinations will need to ramp up to about 25,000 per day statewide in order to achieve community immunity by Autumn, according to OHA Director Patrick Allen. While some days the state has already hit that target, vaccine dose supply is still far below the state’s capacity, Allen said.
He added that the state is slightly behind its expected timeline for vaccinating teachers and educators across the state. Three weeks ago, OHA projected it would have allocated 59% of the vaccine doses needed for educators by this point, but it’s only reached about 50%, Allen said.
In positive news, Sidelinger reported Friday the state has returned to levels of daily virus transmission not seen since the fall, allowing some counties across the state to reopen some businesses for the first time in months.
“These decreases are a testament to the actions all Oregonians have taken to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Sidelinger said.
Vaccine Availability Expands
The state is also getting more help in its race to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. Allen said Friday the state’s weekly dose allocation would be increasing to about 82,000 doses, up from the previously announced 75,000 a week.
Select pharmacies across the state have begun receiving and administering doses of the vaccine. According to Stephen Certo, who directs pharmacy operations for Safeway and Albertsons stores in Oregon, that set of pharmacies includes over 100 Safeway and Albertsons locations across the state.
“We as a company, we’re thrilled to be a part of it, and be able to provide vaccines to the communities we serve. So we are really excited,” Certo said Friday.
Some Costco stores and Health Mart Pharmacies have also received doses of the vaccine and will begin scheduling appointments. OHA’s Allen confirmed that, starting Feb. 15, individuals over 75 will become eligible to receive the vaccine.
While the state’s projected increase in weekly doses is a good sign, the effects won’t be immediate.
“That’s good news, but we know those doses are still months away,” Allen said.
What’s more, even the very small number of breakthrough cases signals Oregonians must continue to keep their guard up against the virus, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated against the virus. He pointed to the spike in cases the state saw during the spring and summer, as some activities began reopening after the pandemic’s initial lockdown.
“I think we all need to remember that period, and remind ourselves we’re still not going back to the way things were the way before,” Allen said. “We’re going to need to continue to wear masks, to socially distance.”