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“Breakthrough” COVID-19 cases: The possibility of infection after vaccination

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The Minnesota Department of Health reported 14 “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases this week, meaning someone was reinfected with the virus more than two weeks after being fully vaccinated.

So, why does this matter?

The bottom line on breakthrough cases according to the state’s Chief Health Strategist Dr. Joshua Wynne: “Someone had the infection, let’s say, gets vaccinated and then gets the infection or gets it spontaneously — we know it occurs, but the relative frequency, we know, is relatively low.”

Dr. Wynne says the chance for a severe case of the coronavirus from a reinfection is even lower, whether you’re vaccinated or have been infected before.

Breakthrough COVID-19 cases are showing up, though. The first reported in Oregon, and now Minnesota is tracking them.

“I know of an individual who got vaccinated within the appropriate time frame and then turned up positive, actually with some symptoms, so it does occur,” Dr. Wynne shared.

“Fortunately, I’m knocking on wood, that individual so far does not have severe disease.”

So, are breakthrough cases being tracked in North Dakota?

“We do track these cases in North Dakota,” said Jenny Galbraith, an Immunization Surveillance Coordinator for the state Dept. of Health.

“In fact, everyone nationally really should be tracking them. So we implemented a process where we do really go through all of our cases and double-check their immunization status.”

The epidemiologist says the state is currently tracking 25 “suspect” breakthrough cases.

“So there is always a potential that these could be kind term shedders, so they’re continuing to test positive,” Galbraith explained.

“…so we kind of don’t want to officially classify anyone as a breakthrough case, because it’s still kind of a new process we’re working out.”

The Health Dept. and the CDC say if you’re vaccinated and you come into close contact with a positive case, you don’t necessarily have to quarantine. But with the small possibility of breakthrough infections, I asked Dr. Wynne if that should be the case or if close contacts should still be quarantining.

“Well, you know there are trade-offs to any policy decision of benefits versus risk and so forth,” he began.

Anyone who is symptomatic is still asked to quarantine. Dr. Wynne says those who are asymptomatic have a lower chance of spreading the virus, but it’s likely not a zero percent chance.

I also asked Dr. Wynne if emerging variants of the virus are causing these re-infections. He said that’s unclear until more data is collected in a month or so.

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