21 Wisconsinites died of COVID, despite being fully vaccinated

Wisconsin health officials say COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but they are not perfect. Now, the FOX6 Investigators have obtained details about 21 people across the state who have died of COVID-19 – even though they were fully vaccinated.

"Get a shot or die," said Patrick Gary of Milwaukee.

With those two choices, Gary figured getting a COVID-19 vaccine was a no-brainer. 

"The facts speak for themselves," said Jeff Martinka of Neighborhood House.

Jeff Martinka

Jeff Martinka

That is why Martinka is on a mission to get more people vaccinated on Milwaukee's near west side – where just 20% of the population is protected right now. 

"We really need to get the numbers up in our neighborhood in order to make the numbers for each of us a little safer for the other," Martinka said.

Martinka is the executive director of Neighborhood House which is holding regular walk-in clinics – hoping to get those numbers closer to the statewide average of roughly 50%.

"We absolutely know that the vaccinations and the vaccines save lives," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett during a recent Milwaukee city-county COVID-19 briefing. 

Mayor Barrett points to promising data released this week by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). 

"Ninety-five percent of those individuals who died recently of Covid either were not vaccinated or were not fully vaccinated," Barrett said.

Ninety-five percent may be good, but it is not perfect. 

"None of our vaccines are 100%," said Dr. Joyce Sanchez of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Sanchez is an infectious disease expert who said there are people who complete their vaccine regiment and still get COVID-19 – what they call "breakthrough" cases.

"The majority of those that happen are either mildly symptomatic and resolve or are asymptomatic and are caught on screening for various other purposes," Dr. Sanchez said.

Dr. Joyce Sanchez

Dr. Joyce Sanchez

Since March 1, 21 Wisconsinites have died from breakthrough COVID-19 cases. Data obtained by the FOX6 Investigators shows one-third of them were in southeast Wisconsin. Their median age – 82 years old. A third were in long-term care facilities. All 21 had other underlying health conditions.

"It’s also important to know that the number of deaths is so much lower than we see generally in people who are unvaccinated," Dr. Sanchez said.

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During the same time period, COVID-19 killed 412 people who were not vaccinated or just partially vaccinated. 

"With anything in life, there is some kind of a risk," Martinka said.

While nothing is guaranteed, Martinka said he is proud to have helped more than 200 people get their shots so far. 

"What it means for me is 214 times, a Milwaukeean is that much safer than they were before they came to Neighborhood House," Martinka said.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says the 21 fully-vaccinated Wisconsinites who had died of COVID-19 since March 1 were not gene-sequenced. So they do not know how many of them were infected with the so-called delta variant.

Milwaukee's Neighborhood House has more free, walk-in vaccine clinics scheduled throughout the summer. 

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