With Oregon's concern over COVID-19 receding and the widespread vaccination push losing steam, surprising data has emerged on vaccine efficacy.
Vaccine breakthrough cases made up nearly half of Oregon's COVID-19 cases in the latest report from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
OHA's April 7 COVID-19 Breakthrough Report shows that between March 27 and April 2, of the 2,035 COVID-19 cases reported by the OHA 960 were vaccine breakthrough cases (47.2%).
The figure could be even higher than the data shows, as the data includes positive tests reported to public health and not positive at-home tests.
The latest report from the agency on vaccination breakthrough deaths reveals a similar trend.
In the month of March, 46.4% of reported COVID-19 deaths occurred in fully vaccinated people.
Vaccine breakthrough cases are defined as instances in which an individual tests positive for COVID-19 at least 14 days following the completion of any primary COVID-19 vaccine series, according to the OHA.
According to the April 7 report, there have been 1,374 recorded breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Columbia County.
On April 7, The Chronicle reached out to OHA Lead Communications Officer Jonathan Modie for comment on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning an injunction on the federal mask mandate.
While Modie told Country Media he couldn't speak specifically to the court decision, he reaffirmed the importance of getting vaccinated: "vaccines are safe and effective, and vaccination remains the most effective tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19," he said.
In a separate email, OHA Public Affairs Specialist Rudy Owens could not speak as highly of vaccine efficacy, telling The Chronicle that vaccines don't prevent spread "nearly as effectively" as the risk of hospitalization and death.
"As the proportion of the vaccinated population increases, we will see an increasing proportion of cases, hospitalization and deaths which are vaccinated even if vaccine effectiveness remains the same," he added.
According to the OHA's own COVID-19 Vaccination Metrics, the number of people in Oregon completing their COVID-19 vaccination series increased only modestly from December 2021 to April.
The data would suggest that an increase in people receiving their primary vaccination series is insufficient to explain the month-by-month rise in COVID-19 breakthrough infections.
Changes to COVID-19 data reporting
On March 30, the OHA announced it would reduce COVID-19 breakthrough infections reporting from weekly to monthly publications.
Country Media asked Owens why the OHA would release fewer reports when breakthrough infections are at an all-time high.
Owens offered the following response.
"As we explained in our March 30 release announcing our new reporting cadence, with cases and hospitalizations having declined following a surge due to Omicron, and with public having the knowledge and tools to protect themselves, OHA is adapting to the latest phase of the pandemic."
"Our cadence for sharing data does not mean the pandemic is over. As we shared, OHA will continue to monitor and report cases, deaths, hospitalizations, variants, vaccination and booster rates, and other developments."
Breakthrough cases aren't a new phenomenon. In an April 8, 2021 press release, approximately one year ago from today, the OHA reported 168 breakthrough infections.
"No vaccine is 100% effective, and vaccine breakthrough cases will occur," the April 2021 release states. "Fortunately, these cases remain uncommon."
OHA case update
During a Wednesday, April 20, press briefing, OHA's Public Health Division Deputy State Health Officer and Deputy State Epidemiologist Tom Jeanne, M.D., M.P.H., said that as of April 19, the 7-day average case count was 600.
Daily hospitalizations, on the other hand, are down to fewer than 100, down from winter's peak.
At Wednesday's briefing, Country Media asked OHA Senior Health Advisor Paul Cieslak why an adult with a low risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 should get vaccinated as breakthrough infections become more common.
"I would say that there is a risk," he responded. "It is much smaller in younger people, but there is definitely a risk for severe disease. We know that kids can get this multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which can put them in the hospital and really be quite serious even if they don't succumb to it. And then remember that there's the risk of long COVID. So I do think even in young people COVID-19 is worth preventing for those reasons."
For the latest information and updates on COVID-19, visit govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19.