Hospitals see rise in breakthrough cases; doctors warn risk nearly 10 times greater for unvaccinated

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Hospitals across the state are seeing an increase in Covid patients, but are they also seeing a rise in breakthrough cases being hospitalized?

"We know that our hospitals and our hospital systems across the state are feeling the strain of the increase in disease activity," said Karen Timberlake, secretary-designee, Wisconsin DHS.

As Covid patients seek a hospital bed to recover in this latest wave, a higher percentage of them are breakthrough cases. 

"When transmission rates are high in every single county, we're going to see an increase in cases among people who are previously vaccinated and in people who've never been vaccinated," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer, DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

As of last week, 11 out of every 100,000 fully vaccinated Wisconsinites were hospitalized with Covid. For the non-fully vaccinated, that was nearly 10 times higher.

"So there certainly have been some people who are fully vaccinated who may end up in the hospital with Covid-19, but the really core message is that you are much more less likely to end up hospitalized with Covid-19 if you have been fully vaccinated," said Timberlake.

Doctors say breakthrough cases also tend to have a better shot at getting over it.

"It's still unlikely that these people would progress to the ICU or even to dying from Covid-19. In fact, the numbers show here in Wisconsin there are still a 10 times greater chance requiring hospitalization if you don't have the vaccine," said Dr. William Hartman, principal investigator for the UW Moderna pediatric Covid vaccine trial.

Dr. Hartman says the vast majority of those who wind up in the hospital are over 65 and/or have comorbidities. 

"And so I truly hope that people listen to this and realize that the vaccine is what they need to keep themselves protected," said Dr. Hartman.

But the numbers are on the rise. 

DHS reports August had the highest number of Covid hospitalizations in Wisconsin for the entire year.

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