Out of nearly 3 million fully vaccinated people in Wisconsin, 21 have died of COVID-19

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin has fully vaccinated more than 2.9 million people so far, but even so, some who are fully vaccinated have still gotten infected and even died from COVID-19.

"For the most part it's a very select group of people who are susceptible to that, and most of us who've been vaccinated don't have anything to worry about," said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW Health.

State health officials say out of 433 COVID-19 deaths from March through June 2021, 21, or 5-percent of them, were fully vaccinated breakthrough deaths. Doctors say breakthrough cases and deaths are a rarity, and vaccines are extremely effective and safe.

"What we typically see is these are not, you know, healthy, young people, they're not even healthy, old people," adds Dr. Pothof. "They tend to be people with pretty significant underlying medical problems, usually something that weakens their immune system."

Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirms out of the less than two dozen breakthrough deaths, most were people with immune deficiencies or underlying health concerns. Dr. Pothof says the cases of breakthrough patients he sees usually have compromised immune systems, because they're going through medical treatments like chemotherapy or getting an organ transplant.

"People who are at the extremes of age where they just don't have a lot of reserve left, if they get sick with these things and that typically -- that combination is where we most often see these types of scenarios," says Dr. Pothof.

While no vaccine is 100-percent effective, doctors say if you're under 65 years old, fully vaccinated and fairly healthy, then you won't have to worry much about breakthrough cases.

"Nothing in life is 100-percent, but I certainly wouldn't be worrying about breakthrough cases, ending up in the hospital or dying of COVID-19, it happens with such rarity," Dr. Pothof adds.

"It'll all depend on the immune system of the individual, but the expectation is that people who do -- if they do develop COVID after being vaccinated -- it will be mild symptoms at most and most likely will not require hospitalization," said Dr. Mary Beth Graham, infectious disease specialist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Since the beginning of the year, Wisconsin DHS has confirmed more than 1,500 breakthrough cases, but that only makes up about 1-percent of the total COVID-19 cases in the state since January 1, 2021.

In a statement, the Wisconsin DHS says:

"As you know, the science is clear: vaccines work in the real world. They save lives. And if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected. All three vaccines have been tested and proven to be safe and effective. Take a look at the COVID-19 data and you will see that cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been declining since vaccines were authorized and we started getting shots in arms."
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