HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) has announced three cases in which a fully vaccinated person contracted COVID-19. The DOH said, fully vaccinated means the person received both doses of the Moderna and/or Pfizer vaccine.
A partially vaccinated resident also recently caught the U.K. variant, also referred to as B.1.1.7.
“This number is not outside what we would expect with nearly 165,000 people in Hawai‘i who are fully vaccinated,” the DOH wrote in an email on Friday, March 12.
“Remember, 95% of people get immunity from the vaccines and 5% don’t from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine,” explained Lt. Gov. Dr. Josh Green. “So one out of 20 people could still not have immunity and therefore catch COVID.”
KHON2 asked a doctor at Queen’s Health Systems if there were studies to indicate who might be more likely to catch COVID if vaccinated. There is not, unfortunately.
“The newest studies suggest that we have a higher protection for hospitalization so that even those that do get infected, it’s either a mild infection, as opposed to a severe or critical infection,” explained Dr. Julius Pham, Queen’s Health Systems COVID-19 committee chair.
On Thursday, March 11, the DOH said a healthcare worker traveled one month after receiving both vaccine doses. The person and their travel partner had no symptoms and took the pre-travel test to come home. They did not get the test results until they landed, where they learned they were positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing revealed no one else was infected.
DOH officials also confirmed a partially vaccinated resident caught the U.K. variant earlier in the week of Monday, March 8.
Dr. Pham said, it is important for people to wait two to three weeks after receiving their doses.
“So until that time, you have to be just as careful as you were before,” explained Dr. Pham. “You never know if you’re going to be that 5%.”
The DOH said, it is important to keep case numbers low. “The lower the prevalence of COVID in the community, the lower the chance any of us – even those who have been vaccinated – will be infected,” the e-mail stated.
Dr. Pham said, newer studies indicate vaccinated people might not be a carrier of COVID-19 but others said it is still too early to tell.
“If somebody is exposed to a high amount of virus, then you can still develop an upper respiratory tract infection,” explained Dr. Axel Lehrer, UH Vaccinologist. “But, the person would not notice anything and that’s why it’s so important to keep on masking up.”
The DOH says none of the vaccinated people who caught COVID-19 became severely ill and they did not transmit it to anyone else.
“Some people are going to dive on to this and say, oh, then the vaccine doesn’t work. No, it does work. It works in a huge percentage of people, but not everyone and that’s an important message,” Lt. Gov. Green added.