Nursing & Healthcare News

Can You Get COVID-19 if You’re Fully Vaccinated?

The risk of breakthrough infection is extremely low

Although the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, there’ve still been some reports of post-vaccination “breakthrough infections.” Here’s what you need to know.

Running the Numbers

“Breakthrough infections” are new infections occurring AFTER a patient is fully vaccinated, which for COVID-19 means 14 or more days after the last recommended vaccine dose.

  • Such infections appear to be extremely rare, and are expected with any vaccine.
  • Ninety percent of the 379 new infections reported among the more than 36,000 UCLA and UCSD healthcare workers who received mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) during this past winter’s surge occurred BEFORE the second vaccine dose.
  • Just of the seven new infections reported in that study occurred 15 or more days after the second vaccine dose.
  • The CDC confirmed 10,262 breakthrough infections in the U.S. through April 30, a small fraction of the more than 100 million Americans fully vaccinated by that point — about 1/100th of a percent!

There are undoubtedly more breakthrough infections that haven’t been reported — people with mild symptoms might not get tested, rapid turnaround antigen tests aren’t very accurate in asymptomatic cases, and the CDC is no longer monitoring cases unless they involve hospitalization or death.

Nursing Education

The good news is that these figures suggest the vaccines are even more effective than in clinical trials, where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66 percent effective and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infection.

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The Bottom Line

If you’re fully vaccinated, the odds of contracting COVID-19 are very low, and your risk of becoming seriously ill are lower still. Even so, breakthrough infections remain a public health concern:

  • People with COVID-19 may become contagious before developing any symptoms.
  • Some studies suggest infected people who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic carriers) can still transmit the virus to others.
  • The greatest risk is to the most vulnerable: elderly patients with comorbidities and immune-suppressed people (for whom the vaccines may not work).
  • As of June 7, at least 603 patients with breakthrough infections have died (not necessarily of COVID-19) and almost 3,275 have been hospitalized.

Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse. 


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