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Minnesota health officials release long-sought COVID breakthrough data

There were 46 deaths, 251 hospitalizations and over 6,700 cases among the fully vaccinated for the latest week available

A coronavirus graphic
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Cautioning that the data could easily be misinterpreted, the Minnesota Department of Health on Friday, Nov. 12, released weekly hard numbers since May of Minnesotans who tested positive, were hospitalized, and who died from COVID-19 while fully vaccinated.

These data were released alongside that of those who were unvaccinated.

Since vaccines became widely available in May, there have been 341 deaths, 2,082 hospitalizations, and 45,004 COVID-19 infections recorded among the fully vaccinated in Minnesota.

The week beginning Oct. 3 — the most recent data available — saw 46 deaths among the fully vaccinated, the highest since the 42 deaths two weeks prior. There were 251 persons hospitalized with COVID-19 among the fully vaccinated for the latest week available, and over 6,700 cases recorded among the fully vaccinated.

Breakthrough data is released as weeks-old numbers because it requires lengthy investigation work to identify vaccination status.

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The new data comes with a caveat that it's not a useful comparison to identify the percentage of breakthrough cases among those infected, hospitalized or or who died from COVID-19, as many seek to do.

Citing "confounding" or apples-to-oranges comparison problems, health officials pointed to the older age, longer time from vaccination and poorer health status of the vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated as reasons why breakthrough cases are largely only meaningful as a percentage of the total vaccinated.

The new data reveal that breakthrough infections have thus far made up 1.36% of the 3,311, 952 Minnesotans who have been vaccinated. Breakthrough COVID-19 hospitalizations have made up .06% of Minnesotans vaccinated, and breakthrough COVID-19 deaths have struck down .01%, or one in every ten thousand Minnesotans vaccinated.

Health officials say rising numbers of breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths are an inevitable reflection of the increasing number each week of the total number of Minnesotans who are fully vaccinated.

Kris Ehresmann.jpg
Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the state Department of Health, discusses Minnesota’s known COVID-19 cases on March 20, 2020, during a news conference in St. Paul. Christopher Magan / St. Paul Pioneer Press

"If my dream came true and 100% of Minnesotans were vaccinated," said Director of Infectious disease Kris Ehresmann, "then all of our cases would be breakthroughs ... as we get more of the population vaccinated, the problem of breakthroughs just increases."

"Even with waning immunity, we are still seeing a benefit from vaccination," Ehresmann added. "When we look at case numbers in long-term care, we are seeing more case numbers, but we are not seeing the same level of death that we saw before."

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Breakthrough cases are those who have received a complete series and are 14 days out from vaccination. Booster status is too new to be aggregated and not yet a factor in the new MDH data.

"It's of limited value," said Ehresmann of the new numbers. "However, we've been accused of not being transparent and somehow withholding information so our goal is to be transparent, that's why we are making these data available."

"The reason that (this) data have not been shared widely with health departments (elsewhere) is because they are fraught in terms of how you make interpretations from them," she said.

"There are nuanced calculations that have to be done ... methodologies that I learned in graduate school 30 years ago, long before anybody heard about COVID."

Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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