PINEDALE – COVID-19 cases spiked in Sublette County over the last two weeks, shadowing a rise across the state and nation. Local public health officials reported several cases where people came down with the illness after receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Catching COVID-19 after being vaccinated is cause for concern, and the small sample size in rural Sublette County can lead to misinformation. The Examiner contacted the Wyoming Department of Health to gain a better understanding of what public health officials are calling “breakthrough cases.”
Breakthrough cases occur when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19, explained Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health. Public health officials consider someone to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine or the one-dose Janssen vaccine, Deti added.
“While the COVID-19 vaccines that are available offer excellent protection, a small percentage of breakthrough cases is not unexpected,” Deti said.
The good news is the incidence of breakthrough cases in the state remains very low. The Wyoming Department of Health tracked breakthrough cases back to May 1 when the vaccines were widely available to the public and people receiving the shot had time to become fully vaccinated, Deti explained.
Wyoming Department of Health statistics indicate that approximately 94 percent of people testing positive for COVID-19 between May 1 and July 19 did not report being fully vaccinated, Deti told the Examiner.
Vaccines also significantly lessen the chance that a breakthrough case will be severe and lead to hospitalization. The Wyoming Department of Health reported that as of July 19, 93 percent of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 did not report being fully vaccinated to local health officials, Deti stated.
The type of vaccine administered does not appear to make a difference in the prevalence of breakthrough cases, at least in Wyoming.
“Each of the authorized vaccines has been shown to be effective,” Deti told the Examiner. “Comparisons between them in real-world conditions are being studied at the national and international level rather than at the state level.”
People with weakened immune systems, certain health conditions on specific medications “may not experience the same level of protection” after becoming fully vaccinated, Deti said.
The arrival of the Delta variant in the United States is worrying public health officials because data indicate that this strain spreads faster and more effectively. The Wyoming Department of Health believes the Delta variant is the “dominant” COVID-19 strain in Wyoming, Deti said.
A majority of people in Wyoming and Sublette County are not vaccinated. This factor seems to contribute to the spread of the Delta variant, Deti said.
“It’s true that the lower our vaccinations rates, in combination with this variant that is highly contagious, the more at risk we are for seeing increased cases of COVID-19 and illnesses,” Deti explained. “Initial data suggest that the Delta variant may be associated with more severe illness than other variants, but this is something the experts are still examining. If we have more cases of COVID-19, we will likely see more breakthrough cases.”
The Wyoming Department of Health encourages everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves against illness from existing COVID-19 strains.
“The current data indicate that the available vaccines are effective, including against this Delta variant,” said Deti. “For the small number of people who may experience a breakthrough infection, the vaccines are especially effective at preventing severe illness even with variant infections.”
The Wyoming Department of Health included people that may believe they have natural immunity from catching COVID-19.
“People should be vaccinated regardless of whether they already had COVID-19,” Deti said. “We are seeing that reinfection becomes more likely after about three months (from catching COVID-19 the first time). We have definitely had repeated cases among some Wyoming residents.”