RIVERSIDE – Nearly one-fifth of coronavirus infections reported to Riverside County health officials this summer have involved people who were fully vaccinated, according to data presented to the Board of Supervisors.
During their COVID update to the board on Tuesday, Riverside University Health System officials said 17% of individuals seeking treatment for virus symptoms in July had been fully vaccinated, while so far in August, the portion has been about 15%.
Department of Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said hospitalization data has been consistent, with roughly 10% of fully vaccinated people receiving in-patient care for COVID at medical facilities countywide.
Altogether, the county has tabulated 3,361 cases of fully vaccinated people this year requiring post-vaccination treatment for the virus, according to Saruwatari. She added that 23 virus-related deaths have been documented among the vaccinated.
“It should be noted that a person who is not vaccinated is 37 times more likely to get COVID than someone who is fully vaccinated,” Saruwatari said.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung further emphasized that there is a “stronger immune response” among vaccinated people, with symptoms and duration of the virus being less in those who have completed the SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics.
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said the new infection data underscored the growing conundrum of “breakthrough cases,” in which fully vaccinated individuals are facing COVID exposure risks as if they had never received the shots.
“As time goes by, this virus is mutating into different variants,” Hewitt said, pointing to the Delta variant as an example. “There are others on the horizon. This is going to be a constantly changing thing.”
The supervisor questioned the rush by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to license Pfizer’s SARS-CoV-2 shot, announced Monday, after only six months of clinical trials under the emergency use authorization granted last fall.
“Everybody should know this is not an exact science,” he said. “The FDA has a history of approving drugs, and then three, four or five years later, they’re recalled (over safety issues).”
Hewitt further wondered about the justification of promoting the vaccine for those who have already endured a bout of coronavirus.
“There are plenty of people who have been exposed, and they’ve built up some natural immunity,” he said. “I think in certain sectors, the vaccines are good. But this is not a black and white thing.”
Leung acknowledged natural immunity can mitigate exposure risks, but he said the duration of viral resistance is probably half of what the shots provide.
The doctor said the county is already establishing plans for widespread availability of COVID booster shots.
Last week, federal health officials recommended that all vaccinated Americans get a booster eight months after they become fully vaccinated. That amounts to a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — and “likely” an additional dose for people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. The shots could begin the week of Sept. 20.
According to RUHS, the coronavirus hospital count countywide is 625, up four from Monday, while the number of intensive care unit patients diagnosed with COVID increased to 132, up one from a day ago.
Officials said the aggregate number of COVID cases recorded since the public health documentation period began in March 2020 is 329,184. Monday’s number was 327,971.
A total of 4,707 deaths from virus-related complications have been recorded in the last 17 months, up six from Monday. The role of comorbidities was not reported. The fatalities are trailing indicators because of delays processing death certificates and can go back weeks, according to health officials.
The number of known active virus cases countywide is 8,269, up 1,205 from a day ago. The active count is derived by subtracting deaths and recoveries from the current total, according to the county Executive Office. Verified patient recoveries countywide are 316,208.
According to RUHS, 61% of all county residents have either been fully or partially vaccinated.
While the widespread messaging has been that the vaccines are “safe and effective,” there has been “vaccine hesitancy” as a result of the complications from the Covid vaccines, which have included blood clots, myocarditis, neurological disorders, miscarriages, and death. In addition, the millions of people people who have already had Covid-related sicknesses are reported to have a superior natural immunity, giving them reason to consider not getting vaccinated, especially if they are young and healthy which puts them at a very low serious risk or death.
Approval is still pending for the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna coronavirus vaccines. Both remain available under an FDA emergency use authorization. The Pfizer vaccine also remains available under the emergency use order for people age 12-15 although there is almost a 0% risk of death in young people.
Information on vaccination is available via www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.
City News Service contributed to this report.