The Real Story of Colorado COVID Breakthrough Cases Getting Worse

The emergency room entrance for St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood.
The emergency room entrance for St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood. Google Maps
The number of COVID-19 breakthrough cases — infections of individuals who are fully immunized against the disease, yet still test positive — are rising quickly in the state, and so are hospitalizations of Coloradans who've been vaccinated.

According to the latest statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, breakthrough cases in the state more than quadrupled over a recent two-month period, and exceeded 17,000 by the end of August.

Likewise, breakthrough hospitalizations doubled over a slightly shorter time period when compared to patient admissions this past spring. As of August 30, the CDPHE had confirmed more than 600 breakthrough hospitalizations.

On July 26, in "The Real Story of Colorado COVID Breakthrough Cases," we spotlighted breakthrough data assembled by the state health department for Westword. Because of a reporting lag, the department couldn't produce real-time statistics about breakthrough hospitalizations, but the number-crunchers were able to pull together information for the period between April 1 and June 30. Over that span, 4,881 people were hospitalized in Colorado for COVID-19, and 4,612, or approximately 94.5 percent, were unvaccinated. That translated to 267 fully vaccinated people being hospitalized during that time, about 5.5 percent of the total of those hospitalized over those three months.

The percentages were even more stark for confirmed COVID-19 cases. From April 1 to June 30, 80,039 of 83,302 cases, or 96.1 percent, involved unvaccinated people; breakthrough cases came to 3,263.

In a statement about these stats, a CDPHE spokesperson told us: "The vaccines are working well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death even when a fully vaccinated person contracts the virus that causes COVID-19. A large majority of cases, and an even larger majority of hospitalizations and deaths, occur among unvaccinated people. Because breakthrough cases can only occur in vaccinated individuals, we would expect to see some additional breakthrough cases as more Coloradans complete their vaccination series."

This prediction has proven to be accurate. The CDPHE counted 7,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19 between April 1 and August 23. Of those, 626 were breakthrough cases. That translates to 359 hospitalizations in July and most of August, as compared to 267 for all of April, May and June. As a result, the percentage of hospitalizations for unvaccinated people slipped from 94.5 percent for April-June to 91.1 percent for April-August 23.

Greater changes were evident in overall breakthrough cases. Between April 1 and August 30, the state health department documented 141,805 COVID-19 infections, with 123,811 of them striking unvaccinated individuals and 17,994 inoculated folks. The 14,731 breakthrough cases for July and August are well over four times more than the 3,263 cases in April-June, and the percentage of cases among unvaccinated people tumbled from 96.1 percent for April-June to 87.3 percent for April-August 30.

The CDPHE doesn't see these declines as reason for the vaccinated to panic. "As the percent of the population that is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 increases over time, the number of cases who are fully vaccinated is also expected to increase," a spokesperson tells us. "No vaccine is 100 percent effective, so cases among fully vaccinated individuals are expected. Science shows that vaccines are safe and very effective at preventing infections, and even more importantly at preventing the worst outcomes — severe illness, hospitalization or death — for those who do get infected."
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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

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