COVID breakthrough cases remain rare in Idaho, but disproportionately affect women

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

During a weekly COVID-19 media briefing, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials offered more information on so-called breakthrough cases of COVID-19 — confirmed infections in people who had been fully vaccinated and were at least two weeks past their final dose of the vaccine.

Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist and chief of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention, said the state has recorded 166 breakthrough cases, or .04 percent of the more than 400,000 Idahoans who have been fully vaccinated. Of those breakthrough cases, nearly 90 percent were women.

Turner said the CDC hasn’t yet released data on breakthrough cases nationwide, so it isn’t yet known if Idaho’s data matches breakthrough cases everywhere, nor is enough known about why women are disproportionately affected. She pointed to one potential explanation: In Idaho, healthcare workers were among the first vaccinated, and women make up the majority of employees in that field. Because more women have been fully vaccinated, that may be one reason why there are more breakthrough cases among females, she said.

Turner gave additional information on those 166 breakthrough cases; Forty percent were asymptomatic, and nearly 60 percent experienced just mild cold-like symptoms, Turner said. Only four required hospitalization, and all four of those patients had preexisting conditions that put them at high risk for complications. 

The 166 people ranged in age from 18 to 100, Turner said, and were evenly split between age demographics, with about one third 18 to 39 years old, one third 40 to 64, and one third 65 and older.

IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen started the meeting by highlighting some welcome news about Idaho’s infection rates: All of Idaho’s 44 counties have a 7-day rolling average infection rate of less than 25 cases per 100,000 people.

“This is the first time this has happened for many, many months,” he said. The state’s test positivity rate — the number of tests that come back positive — is at 4.8 percent, less than the state’s goal of 5 percent. 

Though infection rates are falling, hospitalizations remain steady. The coronavirus.idaho.gov data dashboard shows since mid-February, between 140 and 160 patients have consistently been hospitalized statewide on any given day, with between 30 and 45 patients admitted to the ICU. 

Statewide, providers have administered more than 960,000 doses of the vaccine, though the number of doses administered last week dropped below 70,000 for the first time since February. That’s partly because of the pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but IDHW officials also acknowledged the state is nearing a point where vaccine supply exceeds demand.

Screen grab from IDHW media briefing, April 20, 2021.

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