State health officials say 246 fully vaccinated Michiganders contracted coronavirus from January to March, and three have died.

“These are individuals who have had a positive test 14 or more days after the last dose in the vaccine series,” said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the state health department.

Some of the 246 people may ultimately be excluded from the state’s tally of vaccine breakthrough cases because they may have had earlier coronavirus infections and still tested positive two weeks post immunization.

“These cases are undergoing further review to determine if they meet other (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) criteria for determination of potential breakthrough, including the absence of a positive antigen or PCR test less than 45 days prior to the post-vaccination positive test,” Sutfin said.

Although so-called vaccine breakthrough cases are rare, and all three COVID-19 vaccines on the market are considered highly effective with efficacy rates ranging from 72% for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to 94% and 95% for Moderna’s and Pfizer’s, respectively, it can happen.

“While it is significantly less likely, it is still possible to contract the virus after being vaccinated,” Sutfin said. “Studies indicate that even if vaccinated people do become ill, they are far less likely to experience severe illness requiring hospitalization or resulting in death.

“But the possibility of infection and further transmission is why we continue to encourage Michiganders to take precautions while out in public, including wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing, even after receiving the vaccine until more Michiganders have been able to be vaccinated.”

Hospitalization data for 129 of the fully vaccinated cases is incomplete, Sutfin said. But for the 117 people for whom hospitalization records are known, 11 were hospitalized.

“A number of these are new cases that have been reported … as a result of a positive test, but local health departments are either early in their investigation or have yet to begin their case investigation,” Sutfin said.

The three fully vaccinated people who died, Sutfin said, were all ages 65 and older. Two of them were within three weeks of full vaccination.

“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 said. “CDC is actively working to better understand the risk characteristics of this group.

“It is important to reiterate that, while the overall numbers of potential breakthrough cases are low, the proportions of those symptomatic, hospitalized, and who died are all lower than those who are unvaccinated.”

The state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard shows nearly 3 million Michiganders had gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 1.8 million were fully vaccinated as of Sunday.

The virus has infected more than 700,000 Michiganders and killed 16,239, according to state data.

“We are still very much in this pandemic, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” Sutfin said. “That’s why every Michigander has a personal responsibility to do their part by wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing to help us slow the spread of this virus.

“We have increased our vaccine program over the last couple of weeks, which has helped us reach an historic milestone of four million vaccines in under four months. The most important thing people can do is to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and their families, and help us eliminate this virus once and for all.”

Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 246 fully vaccinated Michiganders got COVID-19, 3 died, state reports

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