- Infections among vaccinated people have been reported more often with the rise of the Delta variant.
- However, data suggests that these infections are milder than in unvaccinated people.
- The shots are holding up well at their main job — preventing hospitalization and death.
As the Delta variant spread across the world, reports of vaccinated people being infected started hitting the headlines.
But the more cases there are, the clearer it seems that vaccines still protect against the most severe cases of the disease, even if the variant can get vaccinated people slightly sick.
“There are reports coming in that vaccinated populations have cases of infection, particularly with the Delta variant…The majority of these are mild or asymptomatic infections,” said World Health Organization chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan at a press briefing on Monday.
Few COVID-19 deaths among fully vaccinated in the US
“Are there breakthrough infections in vaccinated people? Absolutely,” Shane Crotty, a virologist at La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, told Insider.
That is because the vaccines are not designed to protect against infection, but to defend the body against symptoms of the disease, he said.
And so far, the vaccines seem to be doing that.
As of early July, 99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the US were in unvaccinated people, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Of 157 million people who have been vaccinated, 733 have died of COVID-19, per CDC data noted by Insider’s Andrea Michelson and Mia de Graaf on Wednesday.
By comparison, there have been over 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the US, according to John Hopkins University data.
Data from the UK and Israel suggests the same
According to data from the UK, the two doses of the vaccine reduced the risk of mild disease by 88% against the Delta variant, compared to about 93% with the previously widespread Alpha variant.
Israel puts that number much lower, at 64 % although experts question whether its small dataset is reliable.
However, both England and Israel agree that against the Delta variant, the vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization by over 90%.
“Maybe there is a reduction in protection against infection,” Professor Eyal Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, recently told Insider.
“But there doesn’t seem to be a reduction in the most important outcome: protection against hospitalization.”
The effect of the vaccine is also seen on country-wide data in the UK, which has fully vaccinated about two-thirds of its adult population.
Cases of COVID-19 have risen sharply in the UK, with an average of about 35,000 new daily cases reported on July 14. It is a fifteen-fold increase from two months prior.
But COVID-19 deaths remain low, with about 33 COVID-19 daily deaths reported on July 14, up from an average of 10 two months before, according to Our World in Data.
That being said, the risk of death after vaccination is not zero. The UK has reported 50 deaths caused by the Delta variant among fully vaccinated people.
Delta could increase the risk of passing on the virus, one expert said
It is possible that vaccinated people are carrying the virus asymptomatically and passing it to others, Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, previously told Insider.
The risk is particularly difficult to detect in the US, because the CDC stopped tracking asymptomatic cases among vaccinated people in May.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks as the Delta variant spreads.
“Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission,” said Mariangela Simao, an expert from the WHO.