The three now appear to be likely cases of “sustained viral separation” from earlier infections, according to a state health spokesman, and their deaths were not even linked to the coronavirus.
Initially, deaths were reported among 246 people, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Humanitarian Services earlier this month, with a positive COVID test more than two weeks after the vaccines were completed.
MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told Bridge Michigan this week that the deaths have since been “scrutinized” and all three have a history of an earlier infection. Furthermore, neither COVID-19 nor any “other acute respiratory infection”
“Probably these three cases are examples of prolonged viral shedding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, not reinfections with COVID-19 after their vaccinations,” Sutfin said in an email on Wednesday.
Even so, Sutfin said, the three dead may still meet the technical definition of a breakthrough infection, as their previous positive test result was more than 45 days before the onset of symptoms, although she noted that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and disease prevention may reach different conclusions.
Post-vaccination infections are noted for the first time when the state compares data from its immunization database, called the Michigan Care Improvement Registry, and the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, which tracks positive cases of COVID.
The cases are being examined by US epidemiologists and reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC compiles data at the national level, collecting, among other things, demographic data on infected people and the type of COVID vaccine they have received.
About 5,800 breakthrough infections have been reported to the CDC so far, according to a CNN report on Thursday. This may seem like a lot, but it’s actually extremely rare, given that more than 77 million people in the United States have received vaccines.
A fourth death in Michigan is currently being considered by the local health department, Sutfin said.
MDHHS now reports that Michigan has registered 334 suspected cases of breakthrough infections by April 6. Of those, 188 remain under active investigation by local health departments, Sutfin said.
At least 16 people out of 346 confirmed cases were hospitalized.
Of the 136 cases in which symptoms were reported, nearly half – 46 percent – were asymptomatic, Sutfin said.
Some people with breakthrough infections may not even know they are infected unless, for example, they are tested for an unrelated medical procedure, said Dr. Matthew Dennenberg, vice president of medical affairs at Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health last week.
Spectrum and other health systems track cases of breakthrough among patients and staff.
The state has not published many other details – such as age or gender – of the breakthrough cases.
“Breakthrough infection” is defined as one in which a person gives a positive result 14 or more days after full vaccination. This is considered to be the length of time it takes for the body to maximize immunity to the virus. Some cases that are considered breakthrough infections are later eliminated, Sutfin notes, for example when a positive test is found to be associated with an earlier infection.
Michigan’s 334 outbreaks represent far less than 1% of the 1.8 million Michiganers who were fully vaccinated at the time with the Moderna or Pfizer two-dose vaccine, or the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, which has since been discontinued. .
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective against infection,” said Veronica McNally, founder of the West Bloomfield-based Frenny Strong Foundation and the I Vaccinate campaign, and a consumer representative on the CDC’s Immunization Practices Advisory Committee.
This week, the committee reviewed information on rare blood clot problems in at least six women, as well as a possible seventh case who had just received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The aim is to determine whether these events are vaccine-related or accidental in time. More than 6.8 million people in the United States alone have received the J&J vaccine against COVID.
Investigating reports of potential adverse events or outbreaks does not automatically signal a vaccine problem, but rather strict surveillance, McNally said.
“We want to know (that) when someone says, ‘This vaccine is safe and effective,’ we know that this vaccine is safe and effective based on the data.”
In clinical trials, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed about 95% efficacy, and J&J vaccine was 65% or more effective.
Researchers in San Diego found breakthrough infections in less than 1 percent of vaccinated health workers, an “encouraging” sign of the “rarity” of a positive test 14 days after vaccination, according to a March 23 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
In other words, the vaccines are “incredibly, incredibly effective,” said Dr. Matt Sims, who leads infectious disease research at Beaumont Health.