Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The C.D.C. stopped investigating most breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals.

Jonathan WolfeAmelia Nierenberg


Credit…The New York Times

It has been five months since the first Covid-19 vaccine was administered in the U.S., and so far the data on vaccinations suggests that they are highly effective. Breakthrough infections, which happen after a person is fully vaccinated, are few and far between.

By the end of April, when some 101 million Americans had been vaccinated, the C.D.C. had received 10,262 reports of breakthrough infections. A study found that of those cases, about 995 people were hospitalized and 160 had died, although not always because of Covid-19. The median age of those who died was 82.

Going forward, however, the federal government will have a lot less data to work with.

Our colleague Roni Caryn Rabin, who covers health for The Times, reports that this month the C.D.C. stopped investigating breakthrough infections except for the most severe cases.

The move has been controversial. Some scientists support the decision, saying that the government should focus on cases that cause deaths and tax hospitals. They argue that there’s only a marginal value to tracking mild breakthrough cases because they can’t overwhelm hospitals, and they are unlikely to result in transmission of the coronavirus (although the scientific evidence for that is not conclusive). When asked to explain the change, the C.D.C. said that the number of breakthrough cases was small and that no significant demographic trends among them had been identified.

Critics argue that the agency is missing an opportunity to learn about the real-world effectiveness of the different vaccines. They also say that the government is missing the chance to gather information that may help identify trends in the pandemic’s trajectory, like how long vaccine protection lasts, or how different vaccines stack up against the variants.

The move will make it difficult to fully understand mild Covid cases that lead to long-term health problems. Some mild breakthrough infections have left patients with lingering fatigue, headaches or brain fog.

We’ve learned time and again during this pandemic that collecting more data is always preferable to collecting less.

“The virus is constantly changing, and we need to stay three steps ahead of it,” said Michael Kinch, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “What if a variant arises that is less responsive or, Lord forbid, unresponsive to the vaccines?” he said. “The way you stop it is good old-fashioned epidemiology, which the C.D.C. has historically done very well. But if you don’t see it coming, you can’t stop it.”

India’s official Covid-19 figures grossly understate the true scale of the pandemic in the country.

To give a closer estimate of the real toll of the virus, The Times consulted more than a dozen experts and analyzed case and death counts over time, along with the results of large-scale antibody tests. Below are several possible estimates of the real statistics.

As a starting point, The Times used data from three nationwide antibody tests. All three found that the true number of infections drastically exceeded the number of reported cases. To estimate death rates, The Times looked at the share of all of those infected who have died.

Even the most conservative estimate is roughly double the official death toll. The most likely scenario is that there have been over five times the number of official reported deaths, while a worse scenario is almost 14 times as much.

For many, the virus is everywhere they look. “Half of the people I know have been tested positive or have been previously infected,” Akash Helia, who lives in Mumbai, told The Times.

This is not just a problem in India: The W.H.O. estimates that the global death toll may be two or three times as high as the numbers reported.

But India’s undercount is mostly likely even more pronounced because of a lack of widespread testing, poor record-keeping and a reluctance to report deaths from Covid-19. And because hospitals are overwhelmed, more people are dying at home, especially in rural areas.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

I was one of the only people in my friend group who took Covid seriously. I’m 22 and all of my friends are young, so they thought they were immune. For 15 months, I was in a state of constant high alert and anxiety. However, after I got my second dose of the vaccine, I started to relax, without realizing it or trying to. The other day I left my apartment, only to realize I wasn’t wearing my mask! A few days after that, I almost got into an Uber without a mask. I’ve started to see friends again, even indoors. I know I’m safe, but I’ll have moments of realization where I think about how dangerous these activities were just a few weeks ago.

— Aristotle Vossos, Harlem, N.Y.

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Jonathan Wolfe and Amelia Nierenberg