NEWS10 investigates: Reporting of breakthrough cases

State News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- Prior to the approval of a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 booster shot by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NEWS10 started researching breakthrough cases by vaccine type. What we’ve found so far is:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not tracking breakthrough cases by vaccine type,
  • Counties are in disagreement whether they have to submit that information to the state,
  • The Department of Health (DOH) is deflecting questions about whether counties are supposed to be sending them vaccine-specific breakthrough case information or not.

The CDC told NEWS10 in an email Tuesday that they do not track breakthrough cases by vaccine type. The agency’s website said the CDC would be monitoring the most severe breakthrough cases or those that resulted in hospitalizations or death. As part of that monitoring, the CDC also said they would be looking at which vaccine these breakthrough cases could be linked to.

NEWS10 noticed information announced or available on breakthrough cases varied by county. To get a better understanding of breakthrough cases in the Capital Region, NEWS10 reached out to several local counties for information after the FDA approved the Pfizer COVID booster on Monday, September 20.

Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, and Washington Counties all provide the number or percentage of breakthrough cases regularly. Albany, Warren, and Washington Counties detail the information in daily reports sent to the media. Saratoga and Schenectady Counties make the information available on their COVID dashboards.

Warren and Washington County also provide vaccine-specific information on breakthrough cases, how many cases or what percentage of cases were in residents initially vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J. Albany County reports the percentage of new cases in vaccinated folks, Saratoga and Schenectady Counties provide similar information.

On September 20, NEWS10 emailed the DOH who said they were aware of 66,217 laboratory-confirmed breakthrough COVID cases in fully vaccinated New Yorkers age 12 or older. They said it equaled .6% of the fully vaccinated population. DOH also pointed to a new state website with breakthrough case information. However, NEWS10 noticed there was no vaccine-specific information on the new website and a growing number of breakthrough cases being reported by counties.

The percentage of breakthrough COVID cases in Albany County announced in their daily updates usually once a week, has been greater than 40% since the beginning of September. From September 8 to October 19 between 43-49% of new cases were in vaccinated residents, who had self-reported their vaccination status.

Out of 215 new cases in the past seven days, Saratoga County reported 46% were breakthrough cases. Washington County reported 217 breakthrough cases as of September 20. According to the County’s website, there were 457 breakthrough cases as of October 21.

NEWS10 was still curious about the inconsistent breakthrough case information being reported by counties and decided to contact the DOH and local counties again on October 20. This time, we asked counties whether they had to report the number of breakthrough cases by vaccine type to the DOH.

When two local counties said, to their knowledge, vaccine-specific breakthrough information was supposed to be reported to the DOH, we contacted the DOH again to verify counties were required to provide the information. We also asked if we could get the number of breakthrough cases by vaccine.

After many back-and-forth emails with the DOH, NEWS10 was no closer to a definitive answer, so we contacted additional counties in the Capital Region to try and ascertain the truth. From the responses we received, it was clear that not all counties were reporting breakthrough cases by vaccine type and they did not all agree that the information was mandated by the DOH.

“When we enter our positive cases into CommCare, the state’s COVID tracking system, we enter vaccine-specific information for individuals who are positive but have been partially or fully vaccinated,” said Columbia County Public Health Director, Jack Mabb. “Specifically, the system asks for which vaccine administered, what dates and lot numbers.”

Albany County Health Department (ACDOH) said they also use CommCare to report breakthrough cases along with vaccine-specific information. “We do assess vaccine status including type of vaccine during case interviews; it is self-reported and not verified by ACDOH. And that information is shared with NYS via CommCare,” they said.

Warren County also said reporting vaccine type for breakthrough cases to the DOH was required, according to Public Health Director Ginelle Jones. When asked for how long they had been required to send the information the county could not provide a specific date but said they believed it to be soon after vaccines had started being administered in January.

Washington County did not say explicitly that it was required by the DOH but said they do include vaccine-specific information for breakthrough cases on a regular basis. “We have been tracking and reporting those out with our regular reports on our website, social media outlets, and in our daily COVID-19 e-Newsletter,” said Department of Public Safety Deputy Director, Timothy Hardy. “Our Public Health team does report that data directly to NYSDOH in their case reporting system regularly as well.”

“To our knowledge, it is not a requirement to provide vaccine-specific breakthrough cases to the NYSDOH,” Saratoga County said. “We are one of many counties that use the NYSDOH COVID-19 Case Management Database and provide breakthrough information through the system.” Schenectady County simply stated its Public Health Service does not track breakthrough cases by vaccine type.

Information on breakthrough cases on the state’s website is obtained in part by going through immunization records, according to Montgomery County Public Health Director, Sara Boerenko. “This information has been ascertained by matching records in statewide immunization databases with statewide testing and daily hospital reporting systems,” she said.

Based on the fact that some counties are submitting vaccine-specific information on breakthrough cases, DOH should have information available for at least those counties. NEWS10 made one last attempt at contacting the DOH Thursday to find out if counties were required to submit vaccine-specific information. They did not answer the question directly but sent a statement once again referring to the state’s website for tracking breakthrough cases and a previously released report.

“The Department’s reporting on breakthroughs is not based on specific county submissions. As the study we previously sent you and our dashboard explain, we are matching the statewide immunization databases with our testing and hospitalization records to determine this.”

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