A Guam conundrum? High vaccination but also high breakthrough and hospitalization rates

Guam vaccination clinic (PNC file photo)

The former chairman of the governor’s Physicians Advisory Group wants the federal government to study the so-called “Guam conundrum” — a situation wherein Guam has a high vaccination rate but also a high breakthrough and hospitalization rate.

Dr. Hoa Nguyen wants the US Centers for Disease Control to go to Guam and investigate COVID-19 here as a unique case study.

“Really, we need some outside help. I think some people need to take a look at the island because we probably have the highest rate of fully vaccinated people in the nation. We’re about 87 something percent fully vaccinated. But at the same time, we have the highest breakthrough rate at about 40 to 45 percent of the fully vaccinated. And that’s very high,” Dr. Nguyen said in an interview with NewsTalk K57’s Tony Lamorena.

He added that among those hospitalized, some 43 percent are fully vaccinated, while typically, in the states, it’s only about 10 percent and in the states, the breakthrough rate is only about 10 percent

“So the question is, why are we so much different than the states? We can think of multiple reasons. but we just want to confirm that suspicion of why we have some really high rates of breakthroughs and hospitalizations. We are still in the triple digit cases now and we shouldn’t be. It’s already been three months. In the states, the delta variant is already burning out and the virus is decreasing in many areas. So what are we doing differently here?” the doctor asked.

He added: “And it’s not just the elderly, but also the younger population. People that are 20 to 30 years old who are fully vaccinated still have breakthroughs,” Dr. Nguyen said.

The government’s health experts, however, do not agree with Dr. Nguyen.

Dr. Ann Pobutsky, during her media briefing last week, said she doesn’t think Guam’s breakthrough cases are anything extraordinary that the CDC should study.

“We’ve also already analyzed the breakthrough cases and we don’t need a special study. And we are very comparable to what’s going on. I don’t think our breakthrough cases are abnormally disproportionate compared to the US. They’re also seeing a lot of breakthroughs and it’s Delta that’s driving these breakthroughs,” Dr. Pobutsky said.

Dr. Annette David added that in vaccine dynamics, higher breakthroughs are expected the more you vaccinate.

“The higher the degree that your population is vaccinated, then the more cases of breakthroughs you will have. That’s just mathematics. Like if you recall, when they made wearing seat belts into law, after that came into effect and more people were using seat belts, then the majority of all the motor vehicle accidents were in drivers wearing seat belts. Does that mean it was unusual? No, it was just that there were more people wearing seat belts,” Dr. David said.

She added that as we vaccinate more people, more breakthroughs will happen.

“But what you need to look at is not the breakthrough rate as much as the hospitalization rate because that’s going to affect your healthcare system, and who’s dying. And when you take a look at those indicators, it is still happening predominantly in the unvaccinated. So I don’t think there’s anything unusual about the breakthroughs. It’s to be expected with vaccine dynamics,” Dr. David said.