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Wichita doctors discuss breakthrough COVID cases, virus impact on immunocompromised

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 4:53 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Doctors say deaths like Colin Powell’s point to the continued seriousness of COVID-19. It’s also leading to questions about breakthrough infections with people who are fully vaccinated.

We learned Monday that Powell had undergone treatment for multiple myeloma, which is a type of blood cancer. These are the types of conditions doctors say can leave the immune system susceptible to infections like COVID-19, even for those who are fully vaccinated.

“Even a simple cough to you and me could be more catastrophic and way more severe in somebody who doesn’t have that immune system to fight off that virus,” said GraceMed Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julie Elder.

Doctors in Wichita report COVID-19 remaining active and menacing in the area and beyond.

‘This virus is a horrible virus and it’s continuing to have a significant impact on our community and people that we know,” said KU School of Medicine-Wichita Department of Internal Medicine Assistant Professor/Center for Clinical Research Director Dr. Tiffany Schwasinger-Schmidt.

Dr. Schwansinger-Schmidt said that includes people who are fully vaccinated through the breakthrough infections.

“(The) idea behind the vaccine is not that you necessarily won’t COVID. It will help protect you from getting it, but if you do get COVID, we are seeing that people’s symptoms are less severe. It is requiring fewer hospitalizations,” Dr. Schwansinger-Schmidt said.

For those with weakened immune systems, Dr. Elder said they could face more serious breakthrough cases.

“A lessened immunity or their bodies aren’t as effective in fighting off any infection, especially COVID. It really does make them more prone to infection overall, even when they are fully vaccinated,” she said.

The CDC has been monitoring breakthrough infections. Data from the last 10 months shows about 7,175 breakthrough infection deaths, 85 percent of which have been in people 65 and older. It accounts for two percent of the more than 345,000 overall deaths during that timeframe.

Doctors say that makes preventative steps like vaccines and masking critical for the immunocompromised and people around them.

“This virus is everywhere in the community, so no matter where you go, there’s always a potential exposure,” Dr. Schwasinger-Schmidt said.

Data from the CDC shows people who are vaccinated are five times less likely to get infected from COVID-19 and more than 10 times less likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus.

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