By CBSLA Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA-TV) – A 73-year-old man is recovering at the VA Hospital in Oakland, Pennsylvania after contracting the Delta variant of the COVID-19. There is a critical twist in his story, however: he is fully vaccinated. Doctors believe he might not here today had he not gotten the vaccine.

Joe Pucci was hospitalized on July 3rd when he was having trouble breathing. The diagnosis came a short time later and at one point, the former Marine declined to be put on a ventilator. He is responding to medications and doing better, but his case raises questions.

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“When you’re vaccinated you can still get COVID,” said Dr. Angelique Campen of Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.But you will have a significantly lower chance of getting sick from it and a significantly lower chance of passing it on to anyone.”

She said she and her colleagues have yet to hospitalize anyone who’s fully vaccinated. This comes as LA County struggles with slowing daily vaccination rates.

Health experts said there were 839 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday in Los Angeles County, up 156% from last Thursday. Positivity rates are at 2.5%, more than double from last week.

County health officials are using these numbers to urge more residents to get vaccinated.

“So even for the people who end up getting infected if they’re fully vaccinated, it is very rare that they would then experience very serious illness, require hospitalization and pass away,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrera, LA County Public Health director.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins understands this will be a cause for concern for anyone feeling confident about their vaccination. “It’s also important to remember that that person is likely alive because he was vaccinated,” he said. “So even though the vaccine didn’t prevent an infection with the Delta variant, it surely had a major role in that person not dying from this infection.”

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Dr. Adalja said this should not shake the confidence in the existing vaccines. “We know that vaccines are extremely, extremely effective when it comes to the Delta variant, when it comes to the things that matter, serious disease hospitalization, and death,” he explained.

While Joe Pucci’s case is getting a lot of attention due to the severity of his experience, Dr. Adalja points out that vaccines are not perfect.

“No vaccine is 100%, and there are going to be breakthrough infections and when they do occur, they’re more likely to be with one of the variants that may be problematic for the vaccine where it doesn’t have the same level of efficacy, but you have to remember that these breakthrough infections are so rare,” he said. “We’re going to see breakthrough infections and they are exceedingly rare and breakthrough infections like that occurred in this individual are even rarer because most of these breakthrough infections that we see are clinically insignificant.”

In fact, Dr. Adalja says Fucci should be a point of reassurance for naysayers.

“I would point to this man and say, ‘see, It did work, he didn’t die from COVID-19,’ and what we’ve wanted our vaccines to do is prevent serious disease hospitalization in death,'” he explained. “That’s the most important thing that a vaccine can do and I think that this, this man is likely alive because he was vaccinated, and even though he got a breakthrough infection which is rare. I think it really is the other way around that this vaccine was likely instrumental in him surviving COVID-19.”

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He pointed out the more people are vaccinated, the less the risk will be to everyone else including children who have not been vaccinated. When it comes to children Dr. Adalja suggested that they continue to mask up indoors in public places and in crowds until they can get vaccinated.