Breakthrough infections comprise small percentage of NH COVID-19 cases

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Only 3 percent of more than 50,000 COVID-19 cases reported in New Hampshire over the last eight months involve people who have been vaccinated, but that doesn’t stop a large percentage of Granite State residents from doubting that the vaccine works. 

A University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll indicates 1-in-5 adults do not intend to be vaccinated, and 76 percent of this group don’t believe the vaccine would be effective.  

This opinion runs counter to statistics compiled by the state Department of Health and Human Services that back up standard advice from public health experts who say the vaccine prevents infection, serious illness and death.

The state recorded the first vaccine breakthrough infection on Jan. 20. Through Sept. 8, there were 51,260 total cases, and of that number only 1,562 were breakthrough infections, according to data provided by the DHHS. 

Of the 556 hospitalizations reported, 32 or 5.8 percent, involved people who had been vaccinated. A total of 20 of the 398 people who died had received the vaccine. All of those deaths involved people 60 or older.

In a news conference Wednesday, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, reported 549 new cases and four new deaths, bringing the overall death toll to 1,452 since the start of the pandemic. The state has been averaging about 400 COVID cases per day. 

Chan urged people to get the shot. 

“Vaccination is the primary tool we have to control this pandemic, and we want to stress the importance of people getting vaccinated,” Chan said. “Our vaccine numbers remain too low, and low vaccination is contributing to continued spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

Gov. Chris Sununu echoed that sentiment. 

“If you get vaccinated, you are vastly more protected,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent, but it really does work.”

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard Thursday showed 54.3 percent of residents fully vaccinated, a percentage that hasn’t changed much since June. 

The relatively low numbers of vaccinated people with the disease shows that the vaccine is protective, said Mindi Messmer, of the New Hampshire Science and Public Health Task Force.

She finds it concerning that a large percentage of people have not been vaccinated.

“We definitely need more to get vaccinated because the Delta variant is very transmissive,” Messmer said. 

She also said the longer the disease stays in the community the more it may mutate, possibly producing a variant that could evade vaccines, she said.

Vaccination rates vary in the state by community, with some rural areas having lower vaccination rates than urban zones.

Sununu, Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette and other state officials recently took a trip to Kentucky to see how that state is dealing with a major COVID-19 outbreak.

Shibinette said at the news conference that rural areas of Kentucky were experiencing so many cases of the virus that small hospitals couldn’t manage the patient load and were sending them to bigger medical facilities.

Some of those larger facilities have had trouble keeping up with the surge. 

“So what we did when we got back to New Hampshire is that we very clearly did a strategy to target all of the rural communities with a vaccination rate under 50 percent,” she said. “So what you’re going to see is mobile clinics and vans that are going out, working with town hall officials, local fire and EMS and trying to raise the vaccination rate.”

Shibinette said a problem in Kentucky is that some health care workers are opting out of the profession, reducing the available workforce to treat patients. 

“They’ve been working in basically a crisis environment for the last 18 months and they’re getting burned out,” she said. “We see that in New Hampshire, too.”

In the Granite State poll, 79 percent of those who do not intend to be vaccinated said they don’t trust the safety of the vaccine.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says vaccine safety has been borne out through an intensive monitoring system. The agency’s website also debunks a series of myths that have arisen, including false information about what’s in the vaccine and its effect on people. 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit