HOUSTON – The Texas Department of State Health Services said there have been “343 clinically severe vaccine breakthrough cases reported in Texas,” dating back to Feb. 8, 2020, the date the state of Texas started tracking them.
The city of Houston reports 3,164 breakthrough cases out of nearly 1.5 million fully vaccinated Houstonians since January. Nearly 50% of those cases coming in the last three weeks.
It is easy to see how two factual statements can create confusion. The city of Houston logs positive tests, while the state only records those cases that are “clinically severe,” according to DSHS.
This is the challenge when chronicling these rare breakthrough cases.
Many of us have heard more and more about them of late. However, what you probably haven’t heard about is the system used to catalog them. There is a reason for this.
“Unfortunately, right now we are not systematically tracking breakthrough cases, not in the county, not in the state, and not in the nation as a whole,” said Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an assistant professor with the UT School of Public Health as well as an advisor to Harris County on its COVID response efforts.
Dr. Joseph Varon has gone toe-to-toe with COVID since the early days of the pandemic.
“There is no one single way in which we can track this to date. So then how is there any accuracy in this? It’s again estimations,” said Varon.
Varon has seen a small number of breakthrough cases in comparison to the large number of unvaccinated people being overwhelmed in recent weeks by the Delta Variant. Varon says a centralized system to track breakthroughs is needed.
“We need to have a uniformed message or uninformed way of tracking things,” he said.
The state in the way it is counting cases is simply following what the CDC called for this past spring, according to Jetelina.
“They decided in May very clearly that they were not going to follow mild or moderate breakthrough cases. They only wanted to know about hospitalizations and deaths, and that continues to be an issue,” said Jetelina.
There is a large number of positive breakthrough cases that don’t result in hospitalization. Those cases can be key in understanding the virus’ impact if logged since it can shed light on the performance of vaccines.
“I want to know what kind of vaccine is the one that is not covering us as much,” said Jetelina. “We need the data available to track how well the vaccines are working.”
U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is the Congressional Chair of the bi-partisan Task Force on COVID and is in favor of a centralized system.
“It is an issue that is front and center for me, and over the next couple of days I will be talking to our leadership to ensure that they move the ball on this issue,” the congresswoman said.
This is important for Varon who views a system as being pivotal not only now, but in the future.
“We know that there are going to be many more variants, but we need to learn more about what works what doesn’t work,” said Varon.
The bottom line for Jetelina?
“It is an oxymoron that we are the leader of medical and scientific discovery in the world and we can’t track it.”
When asked by KPRC 2 Investigates if the CDC should adjust their system, Jetelina did not hesitate to answer: “Yeah. 100%”.