The percentage of Alaskans who have been infected or hospitalized after having been fully vaccinated from COVID is steadily rising, according to a new report from the Alaska Division of Public Health.

The Aug. 26 report notes that COVID shots were first administered in Alaska in December of 2020. Since then, the number of vaccine breakthrough cases has grown each month. The report claims this is partly due to the fact that more Alaskans have been vaccinated overall.

In looking at the breakthrough cases, the report only analyzes instances where COVID was a “cause of hospitalization” and not merely an incidental finding from someone who was admitted for other reasons such as childbirth or traumatic injury.

The study only documented Alaskans older than 12 years, as this population is ineligible to receive COVID shots.

Another contributor to breakthrough cases is likely due to the declining effectiveness of the vaccines against the Delta variant, the report notes.

Also excluded from the study were those who tested positive less than 14 days after receiving their second vaccine dosage, as these people were not deemed “fully vaccinated.” These people were also not deemed vaccine breakthrough cases if they were again subsequently hospitalized after the 14-day window since vaccination had passed.

The date ranges covered in the study run from Jan. 16 to July 31, 2021.

Through the end of July, a total of 1,890 vaccine breakthrough cases were documented among Alaska residents.

In July, when roughly 50% of Alaskans ages 12 and older were vaccinated, there was a total of 4,134 total COVID cases. Of these 1,222 (or 29.6%) were among those who were fully vaccinated. That means roughly three out of every 10 COVID cases were due to breakthrough cases last month.

During July, the greatest number of breakthrough cases were among those ages 60-69 and 70 years or older. Breakthrough cases amounted to 46% of all COVID cases in the 60-69 age range and 57% of all cases among those ages 70 and above. There were still substantial breakthrough cases in younger age groups as well. Roughly 35% of all COVID cases for ages 50-59 were breakthroughs as were nearly 37% of cases for those ages 40-49.

Among those 12 to 39 years old, breakthroughs were less common.

With regard to hospitalizations, nearly two out of every 10 COVID cases (19.4%) were due to vaccine breakthroughs. There were 165 total hospitalizations due to COVID last month with 32 of those being breakthroughs.

Among those who were classified as “COVID-19 deaths,” nearly a quarter – four out of 17 – were breakthroughs.

The report ends with an explanation of the data, noting that as more cases of COVID occur among unvaccinated persons, “the proportion of the unvaccinated population that is susceptible to infection goes down, and the expected proportion of cases in this group goes down.”

The report also admits that waning effectiveness of COVID shots may account for the rise in vaccine breakthroughs. This is particularly true of older residents and those with compromised immune systems.

Another contributor to breakthroughs is likely due to the declining effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant, the report states.

It adds that “reporting COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated persons may be more likely to be detected than COVID-19 cases among persons who are not fully vaccinated.” This could “artificially increase the proportion of detected cases among fully vaccinated persons.”

The report acknowledges that the unvaccinated who are infected by COVID may build up an immunity to the virus faster than the vaccinated population, “thereby making vaccination appear less effective.”

It concludes by observing that “Further research is needed to better understand the long-term effectiveness of each COVID-19 vaccine.”

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Alaska’s vaccine breakthroughs and hospitalizations on the rise

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.