A total of 151 people have died and more than 500 have been hospitalized in Illinois due to COVID-19 in "breakthrough" cases after they were fully vaccinated, according to state health officials.
According to data updated Wednesday by the Illinois Department of Public Health, 151 people in Illinois have died due to COVID-19 or complications after being fully vaccinated. That figure equates to 2.2% of COVID-19 deaths in the state since Jan. 1, officials said.
At least 563 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized in Illinois, IDPH said. The state only reports breakthrough infections among those who have been hospitalized or died, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IDPH said.
The state does not publicize the number of residents who tested positive after being fully vaccinated but did not die or require hospitalization in order to "help maximize the quality of the data collected on cases of greatest clinical and public health importance," IDPH's website reads.
A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Illinois' top doctor said Tuesday that breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated residents are a "unicorn" as she again urged those who have not yet gotten vaccinated to do so.
"These vaccines are truly effective," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "You know, everyone has heard of a case or two of someone who had a breakthrough infection or breakthrough hospitalization, but it is, that is so far the unicorn, that you need to focus on the people who are not vaccinated, they're the ones filling up the hospital as COVID patients."
The recent surge of COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the state have been found in areas of lower vaccination rates, Ezike said.
"There is a very clear connection between where those case rates are growing the fastest and how well that area is vaccinated, i.e. the more highly vaccinated areas are having lower case rates," she said.
She noted that the growing delta variant has a higher transmissibility that impacts more people at a time than previous variants. Within weeks, Ezike said Illinois has seen COVID cases double statewide.
Studies have shown that the delta variant spreads approximately 225% faster than the original strain of the virus. Studies have also shown that once a person catches the delta variant, they likely become infectious sooner, and that the virus grows more rapidly inside a person’s respiratory tract.
Areas of western and southern Illinois are seeing increases in positivity rates and coronavirus-related hospitalizations in recent weeks, continuing a recent trend that’s seeing COVID metrics slowly on the rise in many areas, particularly those bordering Missouri.
According to Missouri's latest numbers, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, less than 40% of the state's residents have been fully vaccinated, and in some rural counties, that number is less than 20%.
Illinois' top doctor said that is impacting case rates near the state border.
"I mean, the virus does not understand any border between Missouri and Illinois and we know in the Metro East area, in parts of the southern region, that literally people work in one live in the other or vice versa," Ezike said Tuesday. "And we know the very high rates of the Delta variant that we're seeing in Missouri, so that is of concern and it's also coupled by the fact that those are the areas of our state that have the lowest vaccination rates across all age groups. So that's not an equation that will end well, unless we get those vaccination numbers up."
As the delta variant continues to spread, experts are continuing to push for more Americans to get the COVID vaccine. All three of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use by the FDA, have shown to be largely effective against preventing serious illness and death due to COVID, and all three companies say that their vaccines are showing promise in preventing those outcomes with the delta variant as well.