DALLAS - Dallas County health officials say more than 500 fully vaccinated people have contracted COVID-19 so far. Eight of those people have died.
This comes as UT Southwestern has identified a new COVID-19 variant in North Texas.
Dallas County health officials say the eight fully vaccinated people who died were immunocompromised, on immunosuppressant medication or had high-risk underlying health conditions.
But despite these breakthrough cases, doctors say the vaccines are still very effective.
"We know these vaccines aren’t going to be 100% effective," said Dallas County Medical Society President Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper. "There’s really no vaccine that is that good."
Dallas County Health and Human Services is reporting 506 breakthrough COVID-19 cases out of the more than 848,000 fully vaccinated people in the county so far. Of those cases, 82 people have been hospitalized and eight have died.
"Some breakthroughs are expected, but they’re very few and generally speaking," Kassanoff-Piper said. "Most people who get a breakthrough infection do extremely well. Their symptoms are very mild or even asymptomatic."
As CDC guidance changes on masks and Texas bans cities and counties from requiring them, doctors say those with underlying conditions or taking immunosuppressant medications may need extra precautions.
"Those people, even if they’re fully vaccinated, really need to talk to their doctor about their personal risk," Kassanoff-Piper said. "And it may not be wise for those people to go unmasked. What worries us though is are the people who are not yet vaccinated are gonna feel like this means I can do what I want to do. If I don’t want to wear a mask, I don’t have to. They’re putting themselves at risk."
As efforts to get more people vaccinated continue, UT Southwestern has identified the first two cases of a new COVID-19 variant from India in North Texas.
"This one seems to be 60 percent more transmissible than the usual virus," explained Dr. Jeffrey SoRelle, UT Southwestern assistant instructor of pathology.
Researchers have identified five different variants in North Texas, with the UK variant making up about 70% of the viral samples sequenced. Doctors say early research shows the vaccines are still effective against variants.
"It appears it neutralizes and binds to the antibodies just as well," SoRelle said. "But we don’t have any real-world data yet to support."
And the metroplex could continue to see the spread of even more variants.
"I think it’s likely when there’s places with lots of unvaccinated people, the variants will continue to arrive. And it seems Dallas is a very international travel area," SoRelle said. "I think we’ll continue to see more variants from other places or from here continue to arise."
According to researchers at UT Southwestern, the COVID-19 variants now make up about 80 percent of the positive cases they’re seeing.