PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) released new data on breakthrough cases Thursday, showing 19% of new cases of COVID-19 in July occurred in people who were fully vaccinated. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
Through July 31, OHA has identified 4,196 total vaccine breakthrough cases. OHA released its first report tracking such cases in May.
In the report, OHA said more than 90% of severe cases requiring hospitalization occurred in people who were unvaccinated. 7% of breakthrough cases required hospitalization, and 1% have died. The median age of breakthrough cases is 51, and 27% have been in people older than 65. Seven percent occurred in long-term care facilities.
Roughly 2,400 breakthrough cases occurred in July. OHA previously reported it had identified 1,790 breakthrough cases cumulatively through June 30. According to OHA, of the 55 people who died in July from COVID-19, 10 were fully vaccinated.
The breakthrough cases are a small fraction of the more than 2.3 million people who have been fully vaccinated statewide.
Seeing an increase in breakthroughs is not a surprise to experts.
“Breakthrough cases do occur, but they are very, very rare," said Dr. Bukhosi Dube, a senior health advisor to the Oregon Health Authority. "What we do know is that the current surge is fueled by primarily people who are not vaccinated."
People who are vaccinated are still at risk of getting sick, or even becoming infected without symptoms. New research shows vaccinated people who become infected are still able to spread the virus to others. It's why the CDC, the state of Oregon and others have returned to guidance suggesting everyone wear a mask inside public places.
If you are vaccinated and do get sick, evidence shows symptoms tend to be less severe than if you had skipped the shots. That is reflected in hospitalizations, which are now largely made up of unvaccinated people.
Though uncommon, breakthrough cases are a reminder that even those who've been vaccinated can still catch COVID-19.
Just ask Randy Blazak, a Portland sociology professor. He's someone not afraid to go to the front lines of history, as he did in June 2020 when protests and riots happened nightly in downtown Portland.
These days, he's not going anywhere. He's quarantined in his basement.
“It knocked me on my can,” he said.
Blazak tested positive for COVID-19. He is fully vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Like many people, it made him feel protected.
“One of the reasons I’m happy to talk about his," said Blazak. "There are a lot of people like me — vaccinated — that are probably thinking they are okay now."
He said he felt "10 feet tall and bulletproof" after getting his shot.
In the last week of July, Blazak and his wife went to Mt. Tabor in southeast Portland to watch the sunset and discovered a dance party happening with more than a hundred people. The couple hung around for a bit as the sun went down. He thinks that's where the coronavirus got him.
“I think that’s what happened, is my head was still in like March or April when I thought I could go maskless. The delta variant just changed the matrix. And it got me. You know, it got me,” Blazak said.
“I feel really lucky. As big a pain as this is, being stuck in the basement and feeling fatigued and coughing my lungs out and all the discomfort, I feel really lucky,” said Blazak. “Because I feel if I wasn’t vaccinated, I would be in the hospital. This would be much more serious. I think the vaccine probably saved my life."
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