With breakthrough COVID-19 cases on the rise, Md. urges boosters

The number of people coming down with COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus is on the rise in Maryland. Overall, 30.3% of cases over the past month are “breakthrough cases” compared to just 5.9% in May.

So what’s going on?

Health officials in Maryland point to evidence of weakening levels of vaccine protection over time — especially for people with compromised immune systems or other health conditions.

“The majority of post-vaccination infections and deaths since May in Maryland are linked to underlying conditions and comorbidities,” Maryland Department of Health spokesman Andy Owen told WTOP via email.

“More than half of the state’s COVID-19 deaths over the last month are linked to high blood pressure and diabetes. Cancer, obesity, and chronic lung disease are other leading comorbidities among COVID-19 deaths in Maryland,” he said.

This week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan strongly urged people with comorbidities and underlying health conditions to get a booster shot as soon as possible.

“From day one of this crisis, our focus has always been on preventing hospitalizations and deaths, and these vaccines have all proven to be extremely effective at this,” Hogan said in a statement. “However, the data we now have clearly does show that the level of protection does begin to wane over time, beginning after five or six months, especially for those who are immunocompromised, have comorbidities, and are most vulnerable. State health officials have issued an advisory strongly urging people with comorbidities to get a booster dose as soon as possible.”

Separate from booster shots for the general population, officials are also encouraging people who are immunocompromised to make sure they get a third dose of the vaccine, which aims to ensure people with weakened systems get an adequate level of protection.

The breakthrough case data being discussed from Maryland can’t be directly compared with numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the CDC only monitors reported hospitalizations and deaths of people who have been fully vaccinated — not all breakthrough cases.

Maryland counts all cases of new infections that occur after full vaccination against COVID-19 that can be confirmed.

The Maryland data dashboard states: “Identification of post-vaccination infections requires that vaccination data be reported to the state immunization registry and that the vaccination record can be matched to the SARS-CoV-2 test result. Therefore, post-vaccination infections may be undercounted.”

Big picture: Hospitalizations and deaths from post-vaccination breakthrough cases are extremely rare.

Between Jan. 26, when the first breakthrough was identified, and Oct. 17, Maryland data shows post-vaccination hospitalizations have occurred in just 0.055% of vaccinated and post-vaccination deaths have occurred in just 0.007% of vaccinated Marylanders.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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