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Maine COVID-19 experts: 'Clear correlation' between breakthrough cases and no booster, expect 'fully vaccinated' definition to change

Northern Light Health doctors said booster shots are key to preventing breakthrough cases.

BREWER, Maine — Northern Light Health doctors expect the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could update the definition of fully vaccinated to include having received a booster shot.

Right now, the agency defines "fully vaccinated" as anyone five years and older who receives a primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine.

For children 5-17, a primary series consists of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. For people 18 and older, a primary series consists of:

  • A two-dose series of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or
  • A single-dose COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine)

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna (COVID-19 mRNA vaccines) are preferred. You may get Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in some situations.

Northern Light Health's Vice President of Pharmacy Matt Marston said the majority of vaccinated patients in Northern Light Health's hospitals are over the age of 60. In Maine, most of those people received their shots more than nine months ago.

"We have seen that for those that are more than five months out from vaccination, there's a clear correlation between the number of individuals that experience breakthrough cases and the time from their vaccination," Marston said. "Those that are boosted do have a protective effect against breakthrough illness with COVID-19."

The U.S. CDC recently bumped up the timelines for people to get boosters. It is now urging people who got either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to get a booster five months after their final shot. Those who got J&J should get a booster two months after their shot.

"Clinically speaking, there are some significant differences between whether someone is boosted or not in terms of level of risk," Marston said. "I would not be surprised if the definition of fully vaccinated changes some point in the future, and we will closely follow that as well."

More than 968,215 people or 75% of Mainers who are eligible to get the shot are fully vaccinated. 

So far, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 26,001 breakthrough cases, but only 532 of those needed hospitalization. The number of vaccinated people hospitalized out of more than 968,000 people fully vaccinated is 0.05%.

Of fully vaccinated people in the state, 248, or 0.03%, have died. 

The Maine CDC does not make public how many of these people have underlying conditions that could affect their ability to recover.

"It's not impossible to suspect that you will still see individuals who have been boosted that may present with breakthrough cases, but it's even far more effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization," Marston said. "COVID vaccines are highly protective against severe illness, and that effectively gets patients out of the hospital, staying home, able to care for themselves, and it preserves our ability to care for patients overall."

The number of people in Maine hospitals, both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated, is rising.