URBANA — As Illinois prepares to lift all statewide COVID-19 restrictions Friday, even some fully vaccinated people may keep wearing masks and continue to avoid crowds.
The virus hasn’t infected most of those who have been fully vaccinated against it, but it has managed to break through the vaccine in small numbers and has resulted in a few hospitalizations and deaths.
Some infections among those who have been fully vaccinated have been expected because while the vaccines have been found to be highly effective, they’re not 100 percent effective.
But they are more than 90 percent effective in preventing serious illnesses and deaths in fully vaccinated people, according to Elizabeth Angelo, chief nursing officer and senior vice president for Carle Health.
“We saw a dramatic decrease in hospitalizations and deaths when the vaccines became widely available,” she said.
Dr. Robert Healy, Carle’s chief medical quality officer, said it has seen just a handful of fully vaccinated COVID-19 patients in intensive care, and those patients have largely been immunocompromised and/or older adults with certain health conditions that make it tougher for them to fight off infection.
In Illinois, more than 5.5 million people 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. Among those, as of June 2, 295 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and 94 have died, according to the state. That’s a sliver — 1.48 percent — of state’s total COVID-19 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Since May 1, state and national health officials have only been reporting breakthrough COVID-19 cases in fully vaccinated people that result in deaths and hospitalizations.
Through April 30, there had been 10,262 breakthrough infections in the U.S. among fully vaccinated people, according to the CDC.
As of June 1, when more than 135 million people in the U.S. had been fully vaccinated, the CDC said it had received reports of 2,854 hospitalizations and 535 fatalities among fully vaccinated people.
Of those hospitalizations, 77 percent were people 65 and older. And of the 535 fatal cases, 16 percent were reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.
Dr. Yannick Kadia, a hospitalist at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana, said he has seen many unvaccinated COVID-19 patients but could recall only one case there involving a fully vaccinated person.
That patient, who recovered, had the lung disease COPD and had come in due to dehydration from gastrointestinal side effects, Kadia said.
“To my knowledge, we haven’t really seen that many patients who have been fully vaccinated becoming sick with COVID-19,” he said.
Given that the virus will continue to circulate until enough people are vaccinated, Kadia said, people with an impaired immune system — for example, those undergoing cancer treatments and taking certain medications that lower their ability to fight off infections — should consider continuing to wear masks.
Others who would be safer in continuing to wear masks in public places, he said, would be anyone with heart failure or uncontrolled COPD or diabetes.
“Really, it’s important that we all get vaccinated,” Kadia said. “We’re doing a community service by helping our other community members who are immunocompromised.”
Healy agrees. And it’s important, he said, for those who have skipped getting vaccinated to consider that they can become seriously ill with COVID-19 at any age and can unwittingly pick up the virus and spread it to friends, relatives and others.
As more people get vaccinated, those who remain unvaccinated will be more at risk for the highly contagious Delta variant first detected in India and now leading cases in the U.K., Healy said.
“It’s spreading like wildfire around the world,” he said. “That’s 6 percent of our cases (in the U.S.), and we expect that to go up.”
Kadia said it’s important to listen to the reasons given by those who are hesitant to be vaccinated.
Whatever the reason, listen and empathize, he urged, because that’s the key step to understanding and addressing why some people don’t want to be vaccinated.