What to know about COVID-19 breakthrough infections

Dec 27, 2021, 3:24 PM
breakthrough infection...
People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021. With the Delta variant pushing US Covid cases back up, fully vaccinated people are wondering whether they need to start masking indoors again. Covid vaccines remain extremely effective against the worst outcomes of the disease -- hospitalization and death -- and breakthrough infections remain rare. (Photo by Chris Delmas / AFP) (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — You are fully vaccinated, but your doctor just informed you that you have a “breakthrough infection.” What do you do next?

Vaccines reduce severity of illness

COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent sickness, hospitalizations, and death, however, no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing infections for those vaccinated against it. But what are the odds a fully vaccinated person will be infected with a breakthrough infection?

study in Washington state gathered data from more than 4 million fully vaccinated people. The data showed a rate of about 1 in 5,000 experienced a breakthrough infection between Jan. 17 and Aug. 21, 2021. More recently, some populations have shown breakthrough infection rates of approximately 1 in 100 fully vaccinated people, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

But the good news is if you become infected with coronavirus after being fully vaccinated, the chances of a severe infection is low, especially if you do not have a serious underlying medical condition — meaning you probably won’t end up in a hospital on a ventilator. It’s possible for fully vaccinated people not to notice any symptoms at all.

What to do if you feel sick

But if you feel ill and show symptoms, you may want to get tested for COVID-19. Because you can still transmit coronavirus to another person, isolate yourself and follow coronavirus precautions such as masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene to protect those around you. Johns Hopkins Medicine advises against attending indoor gatherings where mask-wearing is inconsistent and ventilation is poor.

If you are fully vaccinated but have a weakened immune system, you are more likely to experience a breakthrough infection. In that case, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an additional or third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine 28 days or later after a second shot to strengthen protection against the coronavirus.

A COVID booster can also help maintain a person’s immunity if their initial vaccination protection has begun to decline.

Vaccines work against delta variant

The CDC also says the vaccines used in the United States work well against the delta variant of COVID-19, which is more contagious than previous variants of the virus. 

Also, misinformation is circulating that breakthrough cases demonstrate that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective. However, this is untrue. Breakthrough infections do not mean that the vaccines are failing, according to the University of Utah Health Communications.

Related reading:

CDC recommends shorter COVID isolation, quarantine for all

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What to know about COVID-19 breakthrough infections