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Vaccinated people can get 'breakthrough' infections: How worried should we be?

Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — With coronavirus cases spreading rapidly throughout the nation, reports of infections among those who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 are increasingly drawing attention.

But while these “breakthrough” cases are sometimes highlighted as a precautionary tale — a signal of the shots’ shortcomings — the reality is that the vaccinations remain as consistently effective as ever where it counts: protecting people against severe illness.

That remains true, officials say, even as Los Angeles County health officials shared a seemingly ominous data point Thursday: 20% of newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in June occurred among vaccinated people. Less than two weeks ago, they said over 99% of COVID-19 cases were among the unvaccinated.

At first blush, these numbers may seem to disagree with each other. But a closer look at the data underscores some key findings cited by public health experts, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts in California and by federal officials.

There are two things occurring: More than half of Californians are now fully vaccinated, yet coronavirus transmission has gone up. And while coronavirus case rates are rising in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, the rates continue to be much worse in unvaccinated people — a trend that’s expected when viral transmission rises.

Why are there cases among vaccinated people increasing?


The following two statements can be true at the same time:

Between Dec. 7 and June 7, the unvaccinated accounted for 99.6% of L.A. County’s coronavirus cases, 98.7% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 99.8% of deaths.

Out of all coronavirus cases confirmed countywide in June, 20% occurred in residents who were fully vaccinated.

The first sentence speaks to the extraordinary effectiveness of the vaccines. Yes, the period between Dec. 7 and June 7 does cover a time period when vaccine supply was limited. But it also provides a viewpoint into what hospitals are seeing and explains why doctors are so convinced at the effectiveness and importance of the vaccines: Extraordinarily few hospitalizations and deaths have occurred among vaccinated people.


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