More than 160 people have died and nearly 650 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, 169 people in Illinois have died due to COVID-19 or complications after being fully vaccinated. That figure equates to 2.44% of COVID-19 deaths in the state since Jan. 1, officials said.
At least 644 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.
Those totals mean 10 more fully vaccinated individuals have died and 51 more have been hospitalized in the past week since the state last updated its reported numbers.
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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 earlier this month 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.
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.