There have now been eight deaths due to COVID-19 after the individuals were fully vaccinated in New Hampshire, all people over the age of 60 since Feb. 1, according to Laura Montenegro, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
Of the people who died from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, four were between the ages of 60 and 79 and four were 80 or older, she said. Montenegro responded via a series of emails from InDepthNH.org and said no state medical expert was available for further questions.
She said 4 of the 8 breakthrough deaths were from long-term care facilities, but would not say which facilities because that could potentially identify the people who died.
When asked about the variant strains, Montenegro said that as of July 7th, there have been 6,303 total specimens positive for COVID-19 that have undergone genetic sequencing to identify variants of concern in New Hampshire and said 1,333 total variants of concern have been identified.
The vast majority, 1,139, or 85%, are the B.1.1.7 (Alpha) variant. “There have only been 15 total specimens identified positive for the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant,” Montenegro said.
According to Harvard professor of epidemiology William Hanage, the Delta strain is 60% more transmissible than the previously dominant Alpha, which itself was more transmissible and virulent than the original virus.
On Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website, Hanage said, “It appears that, in comparison with the previously dominant virus, Delta produces higher viral loads earlier in infection, which may mean that it’s even more infectious during the period when people don’t yet realize they’re infected. It also appears that Delta is more able to cause so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, although, fortunately, the resulting infections are comparatively mild.”
He also said, “Delta’s greater virulence means that unvaccinated people who become infected will be sicker and the burden on the health care system will be greater. Evidence suggests, for example, that an unvaccinated person with Delta infection is roughly twice as likely to require hospital treatment than a person infected with the previously dominant variant.”
Montenegro said, “The best way for people to protect themselves from COVID-19 and to slow the emergence of new variants is to get vaccinated. If we can increase rates of vaccination, keep numbers of infections low, and prevent spread of COVID-19, we can limit introduction and spread of more infectious variants like the Delta variant.”
According to Becker’s Hospital Review, New Hampshire ranks sixth in the nation in the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated at 57% behind the top five other New England states. Vermont topped the list with 66% of its population fully vaccinated.
Rich DiPentima, a former state epidemiologist, said he still wears a face mask whenever indoors at places such as grocery stores even though he is fully vaccinated because he doesn’t want to pass the virus on if he gets an asymptomatic breakthrough case or get sick himself. Because of the Delta strain, it is even more important today to get vaccinated than when the vaccines first became available, DiPentima said.
“If we had started with the Delta strain, we would have had an even greater catastrophe than we had with COVID-19. We need to take advantage of the vaccine,” DiPentima said.