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Washington health officials monitor COVID-19 'breakthrough' cases as delta variant takes hold

Washington state's head epidemiologist likened the rise in COVID-19 cases statewide as a "fifth wave" that is being watched closely.

SEATTLE — State health officials are looking into whether any particular COVID-19 variant is playing a role in breakthrough infections as the delta variant makes gains in Washington.

Breakthrough infections happen when a fully vaccinated person gets infected with an organism despite being vaccinated. In this case, people who test positive with COVID-19 two weeks after receiving their full dose of the vaccine.

While breakthrough infections are happening, Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist of communicable diseases, said the numbers remain low and reminded that while the vaccine is extremely effective, it is not 100% effective.

"So we expect some breakthrough cases and when we look at our numbers of breakthrough cases, they're not above what we would expect," Lindquist said.

Lindquist likened the rise in COVID-19 cases statewide as a "fifth wave" that is being watched closely.

In its latest report released Wednesday, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) identified 3,446 breakthrough infections from January 17 to July 17 this year. That amounts to 0.09% of the vaccinated in the state, who saw breakthroughs.

Of those, 83% reported feeling symptoms, 9% were hospitalized, and 48 people died from a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, according to the report.

Lindquist said the main concern is over the unvaccinated, who remain vulnerable to the virus -- notably the delta variant that now amounts to 58% of all the variants present in the sate.

"Let's be honest, the majority of these are in people that are not vaccinated," Lindquist said.

But health officials are monitoring the breakthrough cases and studying whether a particular variant is playing a role.

"We are worried that the vaccine will have more breakthrough; any of the three vaccines may have more breakthrough with the delta variant. So we're watching very carefully. I am not seeing a big signal on that to this point yet," Lindquist said.