Will the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only count unvaccinated COVID-19 cases? No, that's not true: The agency says it tracks all cases, regardless of vaccination status. A claim to the contrary appears to be in reference to a recent change in one surveillance system.
Namely, the CDC is moving away from reporting all vaccine breakthrough infections to only those resulting in hospitalization or death. "CDC is shifting the focus of one surveillance system, but the others will remain intact so that the collection of data on milder cases of breakthrough infection will continue," an agency spokesperson told Lead Stories.
The claim appeared in an Instagram post (archived here) by "republicanparty" on May 10, 2021. The post included an introductory message and a screenshot of a tweet. The message read: "Only counting nonvaccinated people's covid cases? Nothing fishy happening there." The tweet, which was posted by "iansmithfitness," stated:
CDC says it will no longer update the number of vaccinated people who test positive for COVID unless they are hospitalized or die. But they'll still update the number of COVID cases for normal people who test positive. So you want to scare us with cases but not vaccinated cases?
Users saw this on social media:
Both the tweet and post appear to be referring to a recent shift in how the CDC reports vaccine breakthrough cases. That change is set to begin on May 14, 2021. According to the CDC's website:
As previously announced, CDC is transitioning to reporting only patients with COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infection that were hospitalized or died to help maximize the quality of the data collected on cases of greatest clinical and public health importance.
The CDC defines breakthrough infection as the development of a disease, despite a person having been successfully vaccinated against that disease. No shot provides 100% protection. The COVID-19 vaccines are known to greatly reduce your risk of infection, but it's possible you may still get sick, even if you are fully vaccinated.
Lead Stories contacted the CDC to ask about the post's claim. In an email to Lead Stories, dated May 12, 2021, a spokesperson responded:
All cases of COVID should be reported and are tracked by CDC. There are several surveillance systems that collect data on COVID in vaccinated people. CDC is shifting the focus of one surveillance system, but the others will remain intact so that the collection of data on milder cases of breakthrough infection will continue. We also have studies underway that include vaccine breakthrough cases in patients with milder illness that are being conducted in multiple U.S. sites and will supplement the national surveillance. CDC will not miss important data related to vaccine breakthrough infections.
In other words, while it is true that the agency is changing how it monitors breakthrough cases, it's not true that the CDC will only count unvaccinated COVID-19 cases.
At the time of writing, May 12, 2021, the United States was reporting more than 32.5 million COVID-19 infections. That number includes both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, although the number of infections reported in fully vaccinated people is very small compared to overall totals.
As of April 26, 2021, some 95 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated and the number of breakthrough cases reported to the CDC was 9,245.