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Low percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 after vaccination, state says

The number accounts for about .02% of those fully vaccinated, during a three-month span.

Of the over one million Michiganders to be fully vaccinated by the end of March, about .02% of them have tested positive for the virus. 

A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after their final (or only) dose of the available COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Data collected between Jan. 1- March 31 showed that 246 people tested positive two weeks or more from their vaccination completion, according to the state health department. 

When a fully vaccinated person then tests positive for COVID-19 it's called a 'breakthrough case.' However, Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services along with local health departments are still investigating if all of these cases fall under that categorization. 

Of the potential breakthrough cases, there is only hospitalization data available for less than half, MDHHS said. 

The available data indicated that 11 people were hospitalized, 103 were not and three others were unknown. Three people, all people over the age of 65, died. 

"Unfortunately, it's tragic, but there will be some of those breakthrough cases that will slip through," said Dr. Justin Skrzynski, a physician with Beaumont Health. "That doesn't mean the vaccines don't work, and in fact, they work far better than most of the vaccines we've ever produced, which is incredible."

Spectrum Health has started posting the number of its vaccinated staff members, who have contracted the virus since January of this year. So far, the vaccine has had over 98% efficacy within the West Michigan health system's staff. 

In Ottawa County, senior epidemiologist Derel Glashower said since Dec. 18 the county has identified 16 breakthrough cases out of the over 56,000 people vaccinated. Of those breakthrough cases, no one was hospitalized and no one died.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said during a Tuesday press event that the vaccines can help prevent worse outcomes. 

"It is not a failure at all if someone does get COVID-19, after they've had the vaccine. They're likely going to be not as sick and they're also likely going to not pass it to other people, who can also get very sick. So these vaccines, absolutely are some of the best public health measures that we have," Khaldun said. 

Skrzynski said breakthrough cases were to be expected, as the vaccines are not a guarantee. When it comes to preventing the disease, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are considered 95% and 94% effective respectively, and Johnson & Johnson is about 66% effective.

"We know for a fact that these vaccines are not 100% effective, so unfortunately, there will still be some people that will get COVID," he said. 

But, the number at which Michigan is seeing these cases, Skrzynski says, is "actually very low," especially when the current case numbers are taken into account. 

"One of the things to really take note of is the fact that we're missing all of those older patients in that surge, and those are the patients that got vaccinated. So, I think that right there is proof of the fact that vaccine is doing something," he said. 

Skrzynski runs a COVID-19 unit at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and said he has not seen a fully vaccinated patient require care, yet. 

Instead, he says the hospital has seen its patient demographic shift by about 20 years (from an average of 60 years old to now 40) in comparison to the prior coronavirus surges. 

The COVID-19 vaccine became available to all people ages 16 and up as of Monday. People ages 65 years and older were among the first to begin receiving the vaccine in the state. 

Of the three fully vaccinated people, who then died from COVID-19, two of them passed away within three weeks of their vaccination completion.

MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said this could have to do with some people requiring more time to build immunity.

"While the majority of the population develops full immunity within 14 days of completion of their vaccine series, a small proportion appear to take longer to mount a full antibody response. CDC is actively working to better understand the risk characteristics of this group," Sutfin said in an email Tuesday. 

The possibility of infection after vaccination, Sutfin says, is why the state continues to encourage people to take precautions while in public: "Including, wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing, even after receiving the vaccine until more Michiganders have been able to be vaccinated."

The state's initial vaccination goal is to vaccinate at least 70% of the population ages 16 and up by the end of the year. 

Breakthrough cases are being identified through reviews of vaccination records cross referenced with positive test results. Sutfin said it's part of a  coordinated effort with the CDC.

Click here to read the CDC guidance for those who are fully vaccinated. 

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