The Truth About Colorado COVID-19 Vaccination Breakthrough Cases

A look at Swedish Medical Center, which has treated its share of COVID-19 patients.
A look at Swedish Medical Center, which has treated its share of COVID-19 patients. Google Maps
During a June 2 press conference about Colorado's progress in the fight against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis said, without hedging or equivocation, that for vaccinated residents, "The pandemic is over for you."

Turns out that's not technically true — but pretty close.

Although the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment continues to maintain a vaccine data dashboard that's filled with information about immunizations in the state, the agency doesn't routinely share details regarding breakthrough cases: novel coronavirus infections experienced by people who've already been inoculated. Asked why not, CDPHE Director of Communications Jessica Bralish responds, "We do consistently add new data to our dashboard and will continue to let the media know when new data is added. At this time, we are happy to provide breakthrough data upon request."

As of June 7, Bralish notes, "We recorded a total of 2,866 breakthrough cases. That equates to .1 percent of all fully vaccinated Coloradans. We have not identified more cases than we would expect given current vaccination and transmission rates."

The overwhelming majority of these breakthrough cases have been mild, allowing infected individuals to deal with the situation through home quarantines. More serious scenarios do occur, but they've been exceedingly rare.

"Since January 15, we have seen 211 hospitalizations among vaccine breakthrough cases," Bralish says. "In that same time frame, there have been 10,421 total COVID-19 hospitalizations. There have been 38 deaths among those vaccinated. This compares to 1,137 total COVID-19 deaths since January 15."

Those 38 fatalities have not been directly attributed to the disease. "Hospitalizations and deaths are among cases of COVID-19, not necessarily due to COVID-19," Bralish explains. "That means someone may have died or been hospitalized as a result of another cause but tested positive for COVID-19."

As Bralish points out, "Experts stress that getting vaccinated can provide significant protection against illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Getting vaccinated also protects others around you from getting COVID-19. Current data suggests that it reduces the spread of infection, leading to fewer opportunities for new variants to develop and spread."

Yes, Polis's "pandemic is over" rhetoric is a bit hyperbolic. But by both political and medical standards, his level of exaggeration is at .1 percent.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts