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Sonoma County health officials: Death of fully vaccinated resident no cause for alarm

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

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Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Wednesday the first pandemic-related death of a fully vaccinated local resident, which was reported Tuesday, is “no cause for concern” about the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines.

Mase said the man, who died in a local hospital last Thursday, was more than 95 years old and had multiple health issues that may have contributed to his death.

“He had multiple co-morbid conditions, underlying conditions, COVID was a contributing factor, one of many things involved in this person’s demise,” Mase said.

“Every COVID death is tragic and our hearts go out to the family of this victim,” Mase said. “It is certainly our hope that we will reach a point where we have no more COVID deaths in our county.”

Mase said federal privacy laws prevented her revealing further information about the individual beyond the fact that he had been fully vaccinated before he contracted the coronavirus. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or two weeks after a one-dose vaccine.

Mase pointed out that the vast majority of the 249,377 county residents who have been fully vaccinated have positive outcomes and are greatly protected against the coronavirus. Last week’s fatality was one of only three fully vaccinated residents who have been hospitalized for COVID-19; the other two have been discharged, she said.

“This is not a cause for concern. The vaccine is still very effective,” Mase said, adding that coronavirus-related fatalities of immunized people are “very, very unusual. ... We still think the way we can avoid future deaths and get the pandemic behind us is to get everybody vaccinated.”

To date, in Sonoma County there have only been 117 so-called breakthrough cases, where a person who has been fully vaccinated contracts the virus.

State public health officials on Wednesday confirmed that COVID-19 breakthrough cases and fatalities among those who have been fully vaccinated are rare.

Of the more than 16.1 million state residents who have been fully vaccinated between Jan. 1 and May 19, only 4,771, or 0.03%, had contracted the virus post-vaccination. Of this group, at least 351 have been hospitalized and 37 have died, according to state public health data.

State officials said about 49% of individuals with post-vaccine cases who died were at least 80 years old; 38% were 60-79; about 11% were 50-59; and 3% were 20-29 years old.

It’s currently unknown if the primary cause of death was COVID-19 or if there were contributing or alternate causes, officials said.

Mase pointed to a recent CDC report that found only 995 of 10,262 breakthrough cases in the United States required hospitalization. The report found that 160 post-vaccination hospital patients have died, with the median age of those who died being 82.

Paul Gullixson, a spokesman for the county Department of Health Services, said older residents who succumb to COVID-19 tend to be more fragile and often have several other underlying health conditions. Gullixson said that more than 90% of the county’s residents who are 70 and older have received at least one vaccine shot.

Mase said that people’s natural “immunity wanes” as they get older.

“The vaccine is probably not as effective in elderly people,” she said, adding that that may have contributed to the county’s first post-vaccination fatality.

Mase said coronavirus cases in Sonoma County continue to remain low but stable, even as the state approaches a scheduled June 15 full reopening. But she said the pandemic is not over yet.

Mase said she would not say the pandemic is over until several milestones are achieved. That includes getting all partially vaccinated residents their second shot; getting another 5% to 10% of the population vaccinated; and achieving a stable or reduced transmission rate.

But she said the county and the rest of the state are going in the right direction, and she welcomed the statewide reopening.

“Everything’s headed in the right direction and I think it’s the right move to open economy,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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