Best indicator: Hospitalizations and deaths in the United States are almost all among the unvaccinated, and actual data from Britain and Israel confirm that protection against the worst cases remains strong. What scientists call “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people represent only a small fraction of cases.

“When you hear about a breakthrough infection, it doesn’t necessarily mean the vaccine is failing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious disease specialist, told a concerned Senate panel this week. The shots hold up, he said, even in the face of the highly contagious delta variant that burns in unvaccinated communities.

But it wasn’t until the delta variant started to spread that the risk of breakthroughs started to gain public attention. The barrage of headlines is baffling for vaccinated people wondering how to balance returning to normal with greater exposure to unvaccinated strangers – especially if they have vulnerable family members, such as underage children. to qualify for vaccines.

Sports fans see daily reports of infected athletes, from the New York Yankees to the Summer Olympics. With the Games set to begin soon, Kara Eaker, a member of the US women’s gymnastics team who said she was vaccinated, tested positive at a training camp just outside Tokyo. WNBA player Katie Lou Samuelson has withdrawn from the Olympics and 3-on-3 basketball competition after testing positive despite her vaccination.

And politicians in the nation’s capital are shaken by reports of revolutionary cases, including from a congressman, Florida Republican Vern Buchanan; some Texas Democratic lawmakers visiting Washington in political protest; at least two people in the White House and several Congressional staff.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that with 2,000 people on the White House campus every day, cases of rupture are inevitable, but that the administration will release information if doctors determine that a staff member has had close contact with the President, Vice-President or their spouses.

A critical question about breakthrough cases is whether the person was actually exhibiting symptoms, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press. “Or is it someone who is just sampled out of caution because he had to go to a place like Congress?” ” he added.

Indeed, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said for months that vaccinated people do not even need to be tested after exposure to the virus, unless they develop symptoms. The agency cites limited evidence that they are less likely to infect others than unvaccinated people who get an asymptomatic infection.

But different places have different rules. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who survived COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic and is now fully vaccinated – began quarantine over the weekend after contact with someone with symptoms mild from a breakthrough infection.

And rigorous testing is needed as thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and media – not all of whom are vaccinated – descend to Tokyo for the Olympics delayed by the pandemic.

Although there is no specific number, it is clear that breakthrough infections are rare. As of July 12, the CDC had counted 5,492 vaccinated people hospitalized or died and also tested positive for the coronavirus – out of more than 159 million fully vaccinated Americans. CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said 99.5% of all deaths from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

There is no separate tally for mild or asymptomatic breakouts, although the CDC is tracking them through studies such as the one that gives weekly virus tests to more than 5,000 essential workers, she told the senators.

Breakthroughs tend to be mild because a vaccinated person’s immune system does not need to start from scratch to fight the coronavirus. Even if the virus sneaks past the antibodies caused by the vaccine and begins to replicate in the nose or throat, secondary defenses kick in and usually, “the virus is brought to a halt within days,” he said. University of Pennsylvania immunologist Scott Hensley.

There are caveats. Vaccines do not work as well in people with severely weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients.

And the government is watching closely for signs that revolutionary cases, especially severe cases, are increasing, as it could signal the need for booster vaccines.

But meanwhile, White House officials want to “normalize” the concept of revolutionary infections for the public because they fear these rare and unavoidable events could play into the wars of disinformation that have helped prevent millions from spreading. roll up their sleeves.

“Vaccines were developed to keep us away from these terrible institutions that we call hospitals,” said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University. “We have to keep coming back to this. “

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Associated Press editors Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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