'Why did we let this happen?' Breakthrough COVID-19 infections explained following Colin Powell's death

NOW: ’Why did we let this happen?’ Breakthrough COVID-19 infections explained following Colin Powell’s death

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58)-- Wisconsin data from September shows that unvaccinated people were nine times as likely to be hospitalized and 19 times as likely to die from COVID-19 than a vaccinated person. 

Doctors say statistics like this prove the vaccine is working, but there's still some risk.

UW Health's Dr. Jeff Pothof said former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell paints the picture of someone who was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, yet still fell extremely ill and died from the virus. This is what the medical community calls a breakthrough infection. 

Pothof said there's no reason to question the vaccine's effectiveness.

"It's not the case that vaccines don't work. It's just that we didn't work together to protect Colin Powell," Pothof said. "Vaccines are incredibly effective, but they're not 100% effective."

Pothof said breakthrough infections are mostly impacting two groups: adults 80 years or older and people with suppressed immune systems. We know that Powell fell into both of these categories. 

"Those things are what we typically see in folks who have breakthrough cases, who then go on to be hospitalized and then further go on to either need intensive level care or ultimately die of the disease," Pothof said.

Ultimately, he said breakthrough infections are happening because too many people remain unvaccinated.

"When we make individual decisions to not get vaccinated, we put other people at risk," Pothof said. "People like Colin Powell, who did everything he could do, but nonetheless, got sick and died of COVID-19."

Pothof adds that getting vaccinated is something everyone can do to avoid COVID-19 deaths.

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