Virginia health officials keeping tabs, providing advice on COVID-19 breakthrough cases

Posted at 8:48 PM, Sep 13, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. - News 3 is digging deeper into COVID-19 breakthrough cases. These are cases in which people who are fully vaccinated end up getting infected with the virus.

With the Delta variant, it's something Virginia Department of Health (VDH) officials are keeping close tabs on.

“The more people we can get people vaccinated and protected, the quicker we can get to the end of this and come out on the other end,” VDH epidemiologist Dr. Brandy Darby said.

Dr. Darby and others are studying COVID-19 closely, including vaccine breakthrough cases.

“We know that we’re going to see some breakthrough cases over time,” Darby said. “We know that no vaccine is going to be 100% effective.”

“Once you’re fully vaccinated, you’re risk of becoming infected drops dramatically,” Darby added.

“It’s not just to prevent you from getting sick; you can still get sick, but you’re less likely to die,” News 3 medical expert and family medicine physician Dr. Ryan Light said.

Dr. Light advocates for more vaccinations and testing, adding COVID-19 infections with those fully vaccinated are more likely to be mild.

“One of the main reasons to get vaccinated is so that you don’t get a serious complication from COVID,” Light said. “As we see more and more variants, that’s why you want to shut this down as soon as possible and get that herd immunity up. Because as these variants change, these vaccines that we do have may not be as effective in the future as they are currently.”

Light also said it’s important to keep in mind testing and getting flu shots.

“Flu season is upon us,” he said. “There are going to be times where we get sick, and we’re going to see illnesses mimic COVID. You really need to be tested so you can prevent spreading it around your workplace, or spreading it around your households, or even spreading it to relatives.”

When it comes to COVID-19 breakthrough cases, VDH has been keeping track of them around the Commonwealth.

As of September 4, more than 4.8 million Virginians have been fully vaccinated. Of these people, 0.4% have developed COVID-19.

“That’s just a tremendous number that speaks to how highly effective these vaccines are,” Darby said.

Dr. Darby tells News 3 there's recommendations for those who are fully-vaccinated that've come around with the rise of the Delta variant.

“Earlier in the summer when Alpha was the predominant strain we were seeing here in Virginia, our advice to fully vaccinated people was a little bit different,” Darby said. “You weren’t seeing as many cases, breakthrough cases, for infection with Alpha. And so, fully vaccinated people could quite safely be out in public with no masks in place because we weren’t seeing people who got infected and were able to transmit the virus.”

“Delta is very different. It’s much more contagious than previous variants that we’ve seen of this particular virus,” Darby added. “This is also really the first variant that we’ve seen that’s broken through vaccine protection.”

These recommendations for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 include testing if you're experiencing signs or symptoms, regardless of your vaccination status.

“People with vaccine breakthrough infections often have a quite mild illness,” Darby added. “What might seem like just a little runny nose or a sore throat, which could be easily kind of discarded as allergies, could actually be COVID-19.”

Darby shared her overall message for Virginians.

“If people are concerned that they’re like, ‘Man, I’m doing everything right! But we’re still in this pandemic, and we still have to be so careful,’ my message to you then is get vaccinated,” Darby said.

Along with getting tested, Dr. Darby said other recommendations include, if you’re fully vaccinated and had a known exposure, you don’t need to quarantine.

Related: Partially vaccinated Virginia Beach woman delivers stern message to those reluctant to get shot

Instead, Dr. Darby recommends getting tested three to five days after the exposure in an effort to help detect asymptomatic infection.

While you’re waiting for those test results, she said it’s important to be very diligent about wearing masks in public, keeping distance for those outside your household, washing hand and following any other precautions.

Click here for full coronavirus coverage.