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ADHS: Nearly 50,000 breakthrough COVID cases have been reported in Arizona. How come?

Posted at 5:16 PM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 21:36:57-04

PHOENIX — Four of the largest hospital systems in the Valley — Honor Health, Banner Health, Valleywise Health, and Dignity Health — all report that more than 90% of their staff have received the COVID-19 vaccine, complying with each hospitals' mandate and Nov. 1 deadline.

Those who do not comply with the deadline and do not receive an exemption will either be terminated or have to resign.

It comes at the same time that confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to be reported in Arizona — more breakthrough cases from those who are considered to be fully vaccinated — and some health experts are taking note.

According to health experts ABC15 spoke to, they said breakthrough cases most commonly happen when the vaccines' effectiveness begins to wane before people have received the third "booster" shot. Currently, that booster has been recommended for older populations or those considered to have higher health risk.

A large number of those breakthrough cases seem to be happening with people who received the Pfizer vaccine, which was available at all of the state-sponsored vaccination sites throughout the state, such as State Farm Stadium, Arizona State University, and a distribution warehouse in Gilbert.

According to ADHS data, there have been 49,962 confirmed breakthrough cases involving people who received the COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona. Of those, 376 people have died, though it does not specify cause of death.

Of those breakthrough cases, 29,857 received the Pfizer vaccine, 14,553 received the Moderna vaccine, and 5,552 received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Since more people received the Pfizer vaccine overall, the higher percentage of breakthrough cases being people who received that particular vaccine is not unexpected, a spokesperson said in an email.

How come? It's a question that some health experts are asking, though the answer is not yet clear.

Will Humble, who led the Arizona Department of Health Services for years before Dr. Cara Christ, who left the department earlier this year, wonders if vaccines held at large sites, such as State Farm Stadium, were kept at the correct temperatures and, if not, could that impact a vaccine's effectiveness? The same with the number of volunteers used.

"I’m not throwing stones at them. I mean you had to get the vaccine out quickly and you can’t do that unless you use volunteers but what I am saying is you should use the data that you have to answer the key questions that people have,” Humble said.

Jessica Rigler, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said she's confident processes and protocols were followed at their vaccination sites.

“There were protocols out at the site as the vaccines were drawn from the pharmacy where they were placed into coolers with temperature monitoring as they were brought to the patient administration station," she said.

Linda Patterson received her vaccination at State Farm Stadium in February. Five months later, she was diagnosed with COVID-19, a breakthrough case.

“Of course they run a COVID test when you go in and a couple hours later they came back and said you have COVID. And I said 'no, I don’t have COVID, I’ve been vaccinated and I’m fine.' And they said, ‘yea you do'".

When she got the vaccine, she said the process was efficient and felt safe. So much so, she picked up a volunteer shift to help others receive their vaccine.

“The training was, you know, you better be paying attention," she said.

At most of the vaccination sites, volunteers helped check-in people for appointments, double-checked their information, and helped them sign-up for their second appointment, if needed. Non-medical volunteers did not give the actual vaccine to people.

Patterson said she's glad she received the vaccine, but hindsight being what it is, is now questioning when all of the protocols were consistently followed.

“My concern was how are they going to keep that vaccine cold enough? Because if it’s not cold enough, it’s not going to be right," she said.

“I’m glad I got it because who knows what would’ve happened with my age. I mean, who knows?" she said.