FORT WORTH, Texas — Texas House Democrats are bringing new attention to breakthrough COVID-19 infections when a person contracts COVID despite being fully vaccinated.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio is one of six Texas House Democrats who tested positive for COVID-19 while in Washington, D.C. to lobby for voting protections.
“You know, surprisingly, I feel pretty good,” Martinez Fischer said. “I've been productive. I worked all day yesterday. I've worked most of the day today.”
All the representatives who tested positive were fully vaccinated, and Martinez Fischer says he’s thankful he was, too.
“That vaccine certainly prepared me and prepared my defense mechanisms to really withstand the brunt of that virus,” he said.
Breakthrough infections are both rare and expected. Vaccines trials looked at how well each vaccine prevented symptomatic infections, and they have performed as expected according to trial data.
“Right now, getting people vaccinated is the number one priority,” Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an infectious disease professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston said.
Kulkarni said vaccines do significantly lower the odds of contracting COVID and spreading it by also lowering the viral load a person sheds while infections, but their greatest benefit is preventing serious illness like hospitalization or death.
“The odds of getting very sick ending up in the hospital or dying from COVID go way down,” he said.
Around 230,000 Americans have died from COVID since the beginning of the year, according to the CDC. Just 791 of them were fully vaccinated. That’s less than 1%.
More than 161 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 3,733 fully vaccinated Americans have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 since January. For perspective, in Texas alone, there were more than 3,000 people hospitalized due to COVID on Monday alone.
“A lot of this Delta variant spread is being driven by a younger population, but it's not necessarily because of their inherent age,” Kulkarni said. “It's because of their vaccination status.”
35.4% of Tarrant County cases in the past month were people 24 and younger. More than 72% of new cases in the county were people 44 and younger. Those are also the least vaccinated age groups.
In Dallas County, 34% of COVID hospitalizations in the past month are people under the age of 40. 84% of people 65 and older in the county have received at least one dose of a vaccine but just 29% of people 12-17 have received one.
42.7% of Texas is fully vaccinated and Texas COVID hospitalizations have more than doubled in Texas in less than a month. A model from UT Austin projects that North Texas hospitalizations could be around 3,300 by mid-August, which is higher than the peak in the summer of 2020 and on par with levels seen this past winter.
“That is just so unfortunate because it's entirely preventable,” Kulkarni said. “It is entirely preventable.”
Vaccines are now readily available and the federal government created a texting system allowing anyone to text their ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) in English, or VACUNA (822862) in Spanish for the closest vaccine locations including what vaccines are available as well as options for transportation and childcare.
Breakthrough infections can lower confidence, but Kulkarni says vaccines are still the best way to keep yourself and others out of the hospital.
“It's not as if we don't know what to do. It's not as if there's not a prevention or not a cure,” he said.
“Get off the fence,” Martinez Fischer said. “Let's remember that we're all in this together.”