State Sec. of Health: ‘Slight increase’ in breakthrough cases shows need for boosters

Nov 19, 2021, 11:29 AM
vaccine, breakthrough...
A digital highway sign promotes COVID-19 vaccination in Vancouver, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Washington state’s Secretary of Health says there have been more breakthrough COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, likely because people who are vaccinated slowly lose their ability to fight off the virus.

“We are seeing a slight increase but not significant increase with breakthroughs,” Dr. Umair Shah said.

Shah says the increase of COVID cases in Washington among those who are vaccinated just shows the importance of getting booster shots.

“Over time, if you do not boost this primary vaccination the concern is that you will start to see more people getting infected, despite the fact that they received their primary vaccination,” he noted.

Governor Inslee’s office said Thursday that there is no plan to create an expiration date for the existing vaccine cards given to those who are fully vaccinated. There is not a requirement at this point to have received a booster shot in order to qualify as having been “fully vaccinated.”

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Right now, booster shots are available in Washington state for certain eligible groups. The U.S. government previously cleared boosters of Pfizer’s vaccine as well as the similar Moderna vaccine for vulnerable groups, including older Americans and people with chronic health problems, and those who work in a high-risk environment. Anyone who got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can already get a booster if it’s been two months since their initial shot.

While some states have already started offering boosters to all adults, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration moved on Friday to open up COVID-19 booster shots to the wider adult population. There’s one more step before this approach becomes official though, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must agree to expand Pfizer and Moderna boosters. The CDC’s scientific advisers are set to debate it later on Friday, Nov. 19.

“This question about expanding potential boosters is because of the concern around waning immunity,” Dr. Shah explained.

“If you do have waning immunity over time then the booster really prevents you from having a breakthrough infection,” he added.

If the CDC agrees with the FDA, tens of millions more Americans could have three doses of protection before the new year.

The Associated Press clarifies that all three COVID vaccines used in the United States — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — offer strong protection against severe illness, including hospitalization and death, without boosters. Though protection against infection can wane with time, as Dr. Shah said.

In Washington, Providence Northwest is among those encouraging full vaccination and boosters. Providence says it has seen a 60% increase in COVID patients since last Friday.

The Associated Press and the KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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State Sec. of Health: ‘Slight increase’ in breakthrough cases shows need for boosters