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WASHINGTON – The White House on Friday refused to release the number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated staff after one aide tested positive for the virus earlier this week.
Press secretary Jen Psaki suggested the public did not need that information, even as the U.S. vaccination effort is flagging and COVID cases are surging due to the more contagious delta variant.
When asked Friday for data on breakthrough cases at the White House, Psaki noted that vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to get severely sick or die.
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“As many medical experts have said, inside and outside of the government, those who are vaccinated are protected from serious illness," Psaki said during the White House briefing. "Most are asymptomatic if they are individuals who are vaccinated."
She said the impact of breakthrough cases is limited because country is "in a different place" now than it was six or seven months ago, when the Biden administration's vaccination campaign was just gaining steam.
When pressed by a reporter again, Psaki asked: “Why do you need to have that information?”
For “transparency, in the interest of the public, and a better understanding of how breakthrough cases work here at the White House,” the reporter responded.
Psaki noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state and territorial health departments to investigate breakthrough infections.
According to the CDC, 56.4% of Americans have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday. That number falls short of the White House’s goal of having 70% of Americans vaccinated by the Fourth of July. As of Thursday, 48.8% of Americans were fully vaccinated.
Earlier this week, a White House official and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tested positive for the coronavirus after attending an event together. Both the White House official and the Pelosi staffer were fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective but do not offer 100% protection against the virus. That means a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the CDC.
However, vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to get severely sick or die. The CDC is working with state and local health departments to identify breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death. As of July 12, of the more than 159 million fully vaccinated people in the U.S., about 5,500 had been hospitalized or died from COVID-19.
Earlier this week, Psaki said more than one breakthrough case had occurred at the White House but declined to elaborate.
She told reporters Wednesday that some breakthrough cases are inevitable, since there are 2,000 people on the White House campus each day. She said the administration will release information if doctors determine any staffer had close contact with the president, vice president or their spouses.
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House refuses to release number of breakthrough COVID cases