Dr. Michael Rinchinski

Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief medical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, talks about breakthrough cases and the success of the COVID-19 vaccines as Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam looks on.

Pennsylvania health officials released their first report on breakthrough COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths Tuesday, finding that 97% of the fatalities since Jan. 1 were among the unvaccinated.

Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam announced the findings during a press conference at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital with Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for LG Health.

Both Beam and Ripchinski, who has become the face of the COVID-19 response in Lancaster County, credited vaccine effectiveness for the lopsided health outcomes between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians are seven times less likely to acquire COVID-19 and eight times less likely to die from the novel coronavirus, state data shows.

“COVID-19 vaccines are the most valuable tool in our effort to stop the pandemic,” Ripchinski said. “After 18 months of fighting the virus, we are all searching for normalcy.”

Ripchinski added, “Vaccines provide us with a way out of this. Vaccines enable us to return to normal.”

A COVID-19 breakthrough, or post-vaccination case, is defined as a fully vaccinated individual who tests positive for the virus two weeks after completing a single- or two-dose regime.

Among the report’s findings:

- Among the 639,729 COVID-19 infections since January in Pennsylvania, 35,389, or 6%, were post-vaccination cases.

- 95 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations from Jan. 1, 2020, through Sept. 7 were among unvaccinated, or those not fully vaccinated, patients.

- Just 3% of the 6,472 COVID-19 deaths during this time, or 213 fatalities, were among vaccinated patients.

“This data is further proof that the vaccines are our best tool to protect ourselves against the virus, keep our children learning in schools, keep our workforce in-person, and foster social and economic recovery,” Beam said. “Every person who chooses to get vaccinated brings us a step closer to moving past the pandemic.”

In crunching the data, state officials excluded out-of-state residents and patients with an unknown address.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking breakthrough cases for months, with similar results.

Ripchinski was unable to provide LG Health-specific data on breakthrough cases. He did, however, say that while roughly 5% of COVID-19 hospitalizations since January were among the vaccinated, that number today is closer to 15%.

“The whole point was not to prevent cases,” Ripchinski told LNP | LancasterOnline after the press conference. “The whole point is for you not to get sick and die.”

With cases soaring and the delta variant becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain in June, LNP | LancasterOnline inquired with the state and local health officials about tracking breakthrough cases.

No one was tracking breakthrough cases at the time.

An Aug. 13 state order now requires hospitals to report breakthrough infections. The first data set dropped Tuesday.

The report comes as COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania surge to more than 3,000 a day and after Republican lawmakers requested the data on breakthrough infections.

The statistics released Tuesday represent 55% of hospitals and 80% of the state's acute-care beds.

To read the full report, visit www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Post-Vaccination-Data.aspx.

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