Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike | Photo: Illinois Information Service

Health officials are pushing residents to get booster shots as state data shows about 50% of the recorded COVID deaths in Illinois last week were cases where people were fully vaccinated.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported there were 179 COVID-19 deaths from October 20 to October 27.

From the same reporting period of October 20-27, there were 91 breakthrough cases, IDPH data shows.

A breakthrough case is when a person tests positive for COVID-19 at least 14 days after being fully vaccinated and did not test positive in the previous 45 days, according to IDPH.

87% of all breakthrough COVID-19 deaths in Illinois have been in the 65+ age group.

Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that COVID-19 vaccines “continue to be highly effective at preventing death due to COVID-19.”

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“Of the more than 7 million people in Illinois who are fully vaccinated, breakthrough deaths have occurred in 0.01% of the population,” Arnold said.

Arnold noted that not all breakthrough deaths reported from October 20 to October 27 actually occurred in that span.

“It takes time (days to weeks) to match death records with vaccination records; therefore; there can be a lag in when the death occurred and when it is reported as a breakthrough death,” she said.

Still, the reporting week from October 20 to October 27 had the highest percent of breakthrough deaths compared to non-breakthrough deaths since the state began publishing the data back in April.

A graphic produced by Wirepoints shows an increasing trend in breakthrough deaths in recent months.

A chart published by Wirepoints shows a breakdown of weekly COVID deaths by unvaccinated and vaccinated. | Graphic via Wirepoints

In mid-October, IDPH announced they were partnering with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and Illinois Department on Aging (IDoA) to increase education around boosters and provide support to skilled nursing facilities as they work to administer boosters to residents.

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Currently, Illinois residents 65 or older, anyone 18+ with underlying medical conditions or who work or live in high-risk settings, such as educators and first responders, are eligible to receive a booster shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Those who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine are able to get any COVID-19 vaccine as their booster shot, the CDC says.

“We know that advanced age is a significant factor in COVID-19 breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths, but a booster dose can help provide continued protection,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said earlier this month.

“While COVID-19 vaccines continue to be effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, scientists and medical experts continue to watch for signs of waning immunity, how well the vaccines protect against variants, and how that data differs across age groups and risk factors,” Ezike said.

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Residents who want to receive a booster shot can do so by visiting their local pharmacy, primary care provider, local health department and other locations that offer vaccinations.