Close to 600 New Mexico residents have endured the bad luck of getting fully vaccinated and later testing positive for the coronavirus.

The state Department of Health reported Friday that 597 of those “breakthrough cases” had been recorded as of Wednesday. If that sounds like a lot, it’s about 0.07 percent of the 897,510 in New Mexico who have been fully vaccinated.

That tiny portion, doctors say, provides powerful testimony to the effectiveness of the vaccines. They also say those who get the two-shot Moderna or Pfizer and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines tend not to become terribly ill even if they do acquire the disease.

“If you get vaccinated, you’re very well protected,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer of Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “The take-home message is the vaccine is super-effective at preventing you from getting COVID.”

Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health, called the development and distribution of the vaccines “a real public health miracle.”

Derksen said the vaccines have made a huge difference in combating the disease in New Mexico, Arizona and the U.S.

“It’s just so impressive how quickly they’ve been able to develop this,” Derksen said. “If you look at where we were a couple months ago and where we are now, it’s just astounding.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics indicate the seven-day rolling average of American deaths Wednesday was 497 a day, down by 39 percent from the seven-day average March 19 of 813.

James Barron received his second Pfizer vaccination in mid-March. But he developed a runny nose while caring for his girlfriend, who was ill with COVID-19, more than a month later. A test indicated Barron had it, too.

He went into quarantine for 10 days but never felt terrible. “It really wasn’t debilitating,” said Barron, a 45-year-old sports columnist and reporter for The New Mexican. “I could just tell that I wasn’t normal.”

A few days later, Barron felt fine. “It strengthens my belief that the vaccine is effective even if it doesn’t prevent the virus,” he said.

His girlfriend had acquired only one Pfizer shot when she contracted the disease and had a tougher time. She had some breathing problems, trouble sleeping, minimal appetite, coughing and congestion.

At one point, they considered taking her to the emergency room. “I was scared,” Barron said. “I really was.” But with the exception of some coughing and shortness of breath, she has bounced back.

Statistics from the state Health Department show the following about “breakthrough cases,” in which fully vaccinated people contracted the coronavirus:

  • Of the 597 who tested positive, 55 required hospitalization. Ten of those were likely related to the coronavirus. For 14 others, it wasn’t known if there was a correlation with the coronavirus.
  • In cases per 100,000 people, there were 117.3 involving the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, 73.1 the Pfizer and 64.9 the Moderna.
  • Just over 45 percent of the patients were 40 to 64 years old, 27.3 percent were 65 and older, 21.6 percent were 25 to 39, 5 percent were 18 to 24 and 0.2 percent were 16 to 17.

Presbyterian’s Mitchell made an impassioned call for people to get their vaccinations. Doing so “does not change your DNA. It does not cause infertility,” he said. It doesn’t kill you and it doesn’t give you the coronavirus, he said. It does trigger an appropriate immune response.

Mitchell said statistics indicate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes with a two-in-a-million chance of giving a person a certain kind of blood clot. But if a person gets coronavirus, there is a 40 times greater chance the person will get that kind of blood clot, he said.

As of Friday, there had been 4,126 coronavirus deaths in New Mexico and 14,305 cumulative hospitalizations. About 64 percent of people eligible for the vaccines in the state had received at least one shot.

Whether to get the vaccinations is not a hard choice, Mitchell said. “The truth is, the pandemic is over for vaccinated people.”

It persists among those without vaccinations.

“Fortunately, it’s really easy to fix that,” Mitchell said. “You just go get your shot.”

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