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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

246 infected, 3 dead from COVID-19 in Michigan despite being vaccinated

vaccine tray
The state is investigating hundreds of “breakthrough” COVID infections. They are a tiny sliver of confirmed cases among nearly 1.7 million vaccinated Michiganders. (Bridge photo by Daytona Niles)

This article has been updated: Three Michigan people who died after vaccine actually had earlier COVID

April 9: No new restrictions, but Michigan needs help amid COVID surge, Whitmer says

At least 246 people in Michigan who were “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19 were later diagnosed with the virus, including 11 who were hospitalized and three who have died, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  

More than 1.8 million Michigan residents have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the state. 

The case numbers, while minuscule, underscore two warnings made consistently by public health officials: that the vaccines provide no absolute guarantee against getting an infection, and that masks and other safety protocols remain important after being vaccinated as long as the pandemic continues to rage. 

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The MDHHS data, released Monday, appears to contradict remarks made last week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who touted the effectiveness of approved vaccines, but overstated their ability to help recipients avoid a hospital stay.

“Now, the good news is in our hospitals, we're seeing fewer people going into ICU, the median age has dropped,” Whitmer said Friday at a press event in Pontiac, where she toured a mass vaccination clinic. “Zero percent of the people in our hospitals right now have been vaccinated, which tells you the vaccines work.”

The state’s infection data had been collected through March 31, MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin told Bridge. It is not clear how many of the roughly 2,800 people hospitalized with COVID at the time of Whitmer’s remarks on Friday had been vaccinated.

Eight patients who had been “fully vaccinated” were being treated for COVID-19 at Beaumont Health’s hospitals on Monday, according to Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont’s medical director for infection prevention.

At least some of them were there Friday, he said, though he added that he wasn’t sure if Whitmer had that data.

Of 156,430 people who have been vaccinated according to Beaumont’s records, 41 later tested positive for the virus — an “impressively low number when you consider how many patients we vaccinated,” Gilpin said.

So-called “breakthrough cases” are not surprising, he added. Michigan’s elderly and those with poor immune systems may not be able to mount a robust enough defense against the virus, even though the vaccines’ efficacy rate is “excellent.”

“Even if you are fully vaccinated, nothing is zero percent risk right now,” he said.

At Trinity Health Michigan, a dozen of more than 3,000 health care workers tested positive after being fully vaccinated, but none have been seriously ill, said Dr. Rosalie Tocco-Bradley, chief clinical officer.

She said the eight-hospital system is treating no patients for COVID who were vaccinated against it.

“I think it remains a real strong defense for becoming vaccinated,” Tocco-Bradley said.

The state has asked hospitals to send samples to the state from anyone who has tested positive for COVID after being fully vaccinated, she said.

According to MDHHS, 246 people tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks or more after their second Pfizer or Moderna doses or after their first and only dose of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Sutfin, of MDHHS, told Bridge Michigan Monday.

‘(L)ocal health departments are either early in their investigation or have yet to begin their case investigation,” Sutfin wrote in an email.

Of the three people who died, two died within three weeks of completing their vaccine, according to Sutfin. 

“While the majority of the population develops full immunity within 14 days of completion of their vaccine series, a small proportion appear to take longer to mount a full antibody response,” Sutfin wrote. 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are considered 95 percent and 94 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 with symptoms, respectively. More than 1.8 million Michiganders to date have finished their vaccines. 

Clinical trials for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine concluded that it prevented serious outcomes from the infection, but the trials measured different outcomes so the vaccine efficacy can’t be directly compared to the rates for Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines.

At least 100,000 Michiganders have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to state data.

Sutfin stressed that the rate of people who get infected with COVID-19 remains far lower among people who have been vaccinated than among those who have not. 

Sutfin said it may be some people in this vaccinated group were infected shortly before they received shots but only tested positive afterward. So too, vaccinated people with “breakthrough cases” of the virus were more likely to have few or no symptoms compared with people who were not vaccinated. 

Initial case information was collected through the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, which is used by public health officials across the state to track communicable diseases. 

Staff writer Mike Wilkinson contributed

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