Risk of Severe Breakthrough COVID is Low, but More Likely for the Elderly or Immunocompromised

Of the small amount of breakthrough COVID-19 cases that required hospitalization, around 70% were in adults aged 65 and older

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A medical professional giving a vaccine shot. Photo: Getty

While the risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated is extremely low — just a 1 in 13,000 chance — it is more likely to occur in elderly people or those who are immunocompromised, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

All three of the approved COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S. — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are highly effective in preventing severe illness or hospitalization. Of the more than 173 million people nationwide who were vaccinated by Aug. 30, there were just 12,908 reported severe breakthrough infections of COVID-19 that required hospitalization or ended in death.

And in those rare cases, the majority of patients were older or immunocompromised. About 70% of breakthrough cases that required hospitalization were in people 65 or older, and around 87% of breakthrough cases that resulted in death were also in that age group.

Of the fully vaccinated people who were hospitalized with COVID-19, the median age was 73 and around 71% had three or more preexisting conditions, such has heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune illnesses.

Meanwhile, unvaccinated people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 had a far lower median age — 59 — and a smaller percentage, 56%, had three or more preexisting conditions.

"The risk of infection, hospitalization, and death are all much lower in vaccinated compared to unvaccinated people," the CDC said.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration approved immunocompromised people to get a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for additional protection against the virus.

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Another recent report from the CDC showed that unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those who are fully vaccinated. The vaccine also makes people five times less likely to get infected and 10 times less likely to require hospitalization.

This look at "COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in 13 states and offers further evidence of the power of vaccination," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 briefing on Friday.

"As we have shown, study after study, vaccination works," she added.

As of Sept. 14, just over 62% of the U.S. population — or 209,701,005 people — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 53.9% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Of the population that is eligible for the vaccine, those aged 12 and up, 73.9% have received at least one dose and 63.1% are fully vaccinated.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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