• The figures represent 0.003% of breakthrough deaths in the state
  • The state's total death toll from COVID-19 stands at 17,784
  • An epidemiologist said some breakthrough hospitalizations involved people with underlying conditions

At least 18 individuals in Massachusetts who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have died of the virus in the past week, the state’s health officials said Tuesday.

Over the past week, health officials recorded 2,500 new breakthrough COVID-19 cases, 496 of whom were admitted to the hospital, and 18 new deaths. The latest data brings the state’s total to 12,641 infections and 124 deaths involving individuals who have been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health’s coronavirus tracker.

The figures only represent 0.01% of fully vaccinated individuals who have been hospitalized, 0.29% of those who have been infected, and 0.003% of those who have died.

Overall, the new figures put the state’s total number of confirmed coronavirus infections since the beginning of the pandemic to 690,268. The state’s total death toll is now at 17,784.

Health officials in Massachusetts continue to urge residents to get vaccinated against the virus, noting that while breakthrough cases are rising, most new infections being reported involve the unvaccinated.

"We do need to put some of these numbers in a more realistic context just so people, you know, so people don't panic, so people make the right decisions based on the actual risk," Dr. Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, told NBC 10 Boston.

She noted that some breakthrough hospitalizations are due to other underlying medical conditions.

"In those cases, the positive test might be old, a false positive, an asymptomatic positive, a mild infection or an infection that is contributing to the illness or death of someone sick with another primary illness but not the sole cause of it," she added.

A growing number of studies show that current COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection against severe to critical cases of coronavirus, hospitalizations, and deaths. However, their effectiveness has fallen amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Experts believe the decline in efficacy could be a result of waning vaccine immunity, a lapse in COVID-19 precautions, the spread of the Delta variant, or a combination of all three factors.

“We are concerned that this pattern of decline we are seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the country’s surgeon general, said during a press briefing on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

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COVID shot. AFP / Patrick T. FALLON