The state health director said people who were infected by COVID-19 and have recovered should be vaccinated so they’re less likely to become sick if they’re reinfected.
“What we’re seeing, so far, on the science side, is that you develop antibodies after you get infected, (but) we’re still not sure how long that immunity lasts,” Dr. Libby Char said Friday during a Facebook Live stream. “When we vaccinate people, we know that the neutralizing antibody levels go really, really high — a lot higher than what we’re seeing in normal COVID infections.
“And so the recommendation at this point is, even if you had COVID, once you’re healthy … and you’re completely recovered, you should still get vaccinated.”
According to Char, 51% of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the state having reached the halfway mark on Thursday.
“In our state, over 90% of our population 65 and older has been fully vaccinated — and that’s huge,” she said. “And I think that’s why we are seeing less people dying from COVID, and we’re seeing less people being hospitalized and getting really sick from COVID. Because that’s a very vulnerable population, and by having them way more protected, we’re seeing the benefit of that now.”
Conversely, Char said, “We’re seeing more infections in the younger population.”
“The younger population’s out and about more,” she said. “It’s anywhere between the 18- and the 50-year-olds where we are seeing higher numbers of infection. And in that population, less of them need hospitalization, and there’s a lower death rate, so we’re really grateful for that.”
Char said current infection patterns show that “these vaccines work.”
“We are seeing example after example where there were a lot of people that were in a cluster and a bunch of people got sick. And the few that did not get sick were those who were vaccinated,” she explained. “And we’re seeing this again and again.”
According to Char, there have been “breakthrough cases” of COVID-19 in vaccinated individuals in Hawaii, but the phenomenon is rare.
“We know the vaccine’s not 100%, so we do expect to have some cases. And we have had some,” she said. “I think right now, we’re at roughly 110 cases — and by breakthrough cases, I mean people who are fully vaccinated plus the 14 days thereafter who subsequently got COVID. So we’ve had over 100 cases of that, but knowing how many people that have been vaccinated, that translates to less than 1%.
“What we have seen, interestingly, is that for people who have not completed their vaccination — say, they’ve only gotten one shot — we are seeing a significant amount of people getting COVID, despite that one. A lot of people were saying, ‘I’ll get the one shot; it’s good enough.’ And that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a fair amount of cases after that single shot. Maybe they got infected before they got that shot, or maybe before the two weeks after, I’m not sure.
“But all I know, we’ve seen a lot of cases. We were initially counting them — and we had enough that we said there’s just too much to count. So now, we’re only counting the breakthrough cases of those fully vaccinated.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that about 5 million individuals were overdue for their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. That’s about 8% of those who had received a single shot of the two-shot protocol vaccines.
“Thankfully, in Hawaii, we’re seeing people get their second shot, and I’m really grateful for that. I think our population has been very responsible in that regard,” Char said. “As of today, we have seen 718,000 people who have received shots and are fully vaccinated. And then, there’s roughly 100,000 more that have initiated vaccine. But remember, you have to wait four weeks for the second Moderna shot or three weeks before the second Pfizer shot. So if you wait a month and add those people in, we’re tracking pretty well. … In general, if you look at the curve, people in Hawaii who get their first shots go on to get their second shots.
“And I’m very, very thankful for that.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.