About one-fifth of the new COVID-19 cases in Lexington in July occurred in vaccinated people, according to new data from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
Those so-called “breakthrough” cases had accounted for less than 1 percent of Lexington’s reported infections until the last few weeks. In May, less than 10 percent of the month’s cases were breakthrough infections. In June, that number increased to almost 15 percent.
This month, about 19.5 percent of all cases have been in people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the health department. Health officials are concerned that too many people think they can ignore the coronavirus if they’ve been vaccinated.
“Just because you’re vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that you should just put your guard down,” health department spokesman Kevin Hall said. “We don’t want people living in fear, but we want people living with caution.”
Lexington has reported 236 cases, 32 hospitalizations and three deaths among vaccinated people. The city has reported 35,888 total cases, 2,111 hospitalizations and 325 deaths since the pandemic first hit the city in March 2020.
The percentage of fully-vaccinated residents getting infected is still very low, according to data from the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 55.9 percent of Lexington residents are fully-vaccinated and less than 1 percent of them have had a breakthrough case of COVID-19.
Lexington’s COVID-19 infections have jumped in recent days. The city’s rolling 7-day average was up to 38 cases as of Friday. It was as low as four less than two weeks ago.
Hall said it’s not completely clear why vaccinated individuals are getting infected, but the Delta variant is contributing because it’s more easily spread. Gov. Andy Beshear warned Kentucky residents Monday to wear a mask if they aren’t vaccinated because the Delta variant is a more severe version of coronavirus.
“This isn’t just the COVID from before, it’s a deadlier strain,” Beshear said.
Beshear recommended that vaccinated individuals who work in highly-populated settings start wearing a mask again because of the concern surrounding breakthrough infections.
The loosening of restrictions and an increase in travel during the summer months was expected to increase cases, too, Hall said.
But the vaccines are still proving effective in heavily mitigating the illnesses associated with getting COVID-19. Deaths and hospitalizations are much lower among people who are vaccinated. A study from the United Kingdom showed the Pfizer vaccine was 96 percent effective against hospitalization for the Delta variant after two doses.
“All the evidence we have so far shows that these vaccines are wildly protective and very helpful,” Stack said in a press conference earlier this month. “They’re not perfect though.”
Breakthrough cases were expected to happen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Severe breakthrough cases are very rare across the United States. Only 5,492 breakthrough cases had resulted in hospitalization or death as of July 12, according to the CDC. That’s out of 159 million people who have been fully vaccinated.
“Across the country, the vaccinated people who are getting hospitalized and are dying from it, the reports are showing that they’re people with underlying conditions who are the most vulnerable in the community,” Hall said.
The same is often true for those who are unvaccinated.
“It’s so important, if you’re unvaccinated and have these underlying health conditions, to take this step — the easiest step — and get the shot,” Hall said.
Unvaccinated people who are contracting the virus and passing it to others are driving case increases, Hall said.
The health department is trying to reach people who are vaccine hesitant without making them feel like they’re at fault for the pandemic’s continuation.
“It has been humanity’s response to blame it on other people, when it is all of us that are contributing to this,” Hall said.
“It’s easy for people to point the finger at unvaccinated people,” Hall said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with new data Tuesday morning.