PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - The Oregon Health Authority reported eight COVID-19 breakthrough deaths on Thursday. Breakthrough cases are those in which people were fully vaccinated but tested positive for COVID-19.
You may be wondering why these extraordinarily rare events are happening, and perspective is extremely important. The number of breakthrough cases Oregon has seen compared to the number of people vaccinated comes out to about .05%.
Dr. William Messer, an assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University in the departments of medicine and molecular microbiology and immunology, told FOX 12 when vaccines were first presented to the FDA, there wasn’t anyone with a breakthrough case who died in those vaccine trial groups.
However, those trials involved tens of thousands of people compared to around 100 million people who are now vaccinated nationwide.
There are two reasons for vaccine failure, Messer said.
The first is that the vaccine can fail to illicit an immune response. Most often, it has to do with the person who’s being vaccinated having a weakened immune system. The second reason is there may be a mismatch between the vaccine and the virus. A good example of this is the influenza vaccine. The formula must be changed each year to match the circulating strain.
Messer said underlying conditions are likely playing a factor in these cases, as well.
“They may be, additionally, complicated by an underlying condition that the person had that affected their body’s response to the vaccine that led to their body not having a really good response to the vaccine, which may or may not play a role directly in their death when they get COVID-19,” he said. “But if you are immunosuppressed, or have an underlying condition that suppresses your immune system, then that means that the vaccine didn’t necessarily take and that is an underlying condition that could then lead to you being hospitalized with COVID-19.”
Messer said it’s important to remember a lot of these breakthrough cases are still milder than a person who’s unvaccinated. As more people get vaccinated, these rare events are inevitably going to happen.