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What's a COVID-19 Breakthrough Infection? Fully Vaccinated Yankees Find Out

May 12, 2021

The New York Yankees defied vaccine odds when two coaches and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 this week despite being fully vaccinated. The Yankees announced third-base coach Phil Nevin's test results before the team's 3-1 victory Tuesday over the the Tampa Bay Rays. After the game, the Yankees said first-base coach Reggie Willits and a staff member also had tested positive. This phenomenon, known as breakthrough infections, was anticipated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but remains rare. In Connecticut, only 242 breakthrough cases have been reported among 1.47 million fully vaccinated people, the state Department of Public Health said late last week. That's 0.02 percent of the fully vaccinated population. Of those infected,159 (65.7 percent) were women and 58 were residents of nursing homes, assisted-living facilities or other congregate settings. Notably, asymptomatic carriers -- those with no symptoms -- accounted for 109 cases. "If you do get the vaccination, your chance of dying or being hospitalized are extremely, extremely low," says Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare's Chief Clinical Officer. "It's worse if you don't get the vaccination." The CDC reported 9,245 breakthrough cases among the country's more than 95 million people fully vaccinated people as of April 26, with 5,827 (63 percent) women and 4,245 (45 percent) over age 60. The federal agency cautioned that breakthrough cases are likely underreported because of the passive surveillance system that relies on voluntary reporting from state health departments. It could explain, in part, why women are disproportionately represented in the breakthrough cases -- they're more likely than men to seek medical care. A lack of testing and differences in immune systems also could skew the numbers. The CDC, starting May 14, will only report breakthrough infections that required hospitalization or resulted in death. The CDC considers people fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) or 14 days after receiving a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson). No vaccine is 100 percent, but the COVID-19 vaccines come close. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95 percent effective in a 38,000-participant clinical trial. Moderna's vaccine was 94.1 percent effective in a 30,000-participant clinical trial. Johnson & Johnson's was 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death, 85 percent effective against severe cases and 72 percent effective at preventing moderate illness in various trials. The Yankees said Nevin began quarantine protocol in Tampa and, following Major League Baseball guidance, the team increased testing and started contact tracing. The Yankees already had reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold outlined by Major League Baseball. After the Nevin announcement, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole resumed wearing a mask during a videoconference media session before the game. "As a whole, we're going to press on," he said. "I don't think this is going to be over for a few years. I think we're going to have to be dealing with this kind of thing for a while. And every time these things come up, we're going to have to adapt and learn, just as a species."