When Should I Worry About...

Can You Still Get COVID-19 If You're Fully-Vaccinated?

Nov. 8, 2021 - Katie McCallum

The COVID-19 Delta variant is still spreading across the U.S. — especially among the unvaccinated.

But, you are vaccinated, so does the virus still really mean anything for you?

Unfortunately, yes.

"The new Delta variant spreads much easier than versions of the virus we've seen previously. The good news is that, in terms of preventing severe disease, this variant is still largely susceptible to vaccination. However, no vaccine is ever 100% effective at preventing infection, and breakthrough infections are occurring," says Dr. Drews.

This is OK, though, since vaccines aren't the only safety measure we have to protect ourselves from getting sick and spreading illness.

"It's once again time for each of us to take action towards flattening the curve — even those of us who are vaccinated," says Dr. Drews. "This means putting our masks back on and taking other precautions we've seen make a difference throughout this pandemic."

It may also mean getting a COVID booster, if you're eligible.

Here are five things vaccinated individuals need to know.

1. What the numbers say about your risk

"Breakthrough infections are occurring, but the truly good news is that vaccinated individuals who do get COVID-19 are much less likely to be hospitalized than those who aren't vaccinated," says Dr. Drews. "The death rate is also much, much lower for vaccinated individuals."

According to CDC data released in August 2021, vaccinated individuals are:

  • 8 times less likely to get COVID-19
  • 25 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19
  • 25 times less likely to die of COVID-19

"This is welcome news since it reaffirms that the vaccines are very successful at their primary job — preventing serious disease," says Dr. Drews. "In fact, estimates suggest that COVID-19 vaccines have saved a quarter of a million lives and prevented more than 1 million hospitalizations."

In most cases, fully vaccinated people who do get infected with the virus are asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms. So, while the vaccines aren't perfect, they're pretty darn close.

"The major concern about breakthrough infections is that fully vaccinated people can inadvertently spread COVID-19 to others, and it may be hard to determine how common this is," warns Dr. Drews.

This is why it's so important for all of us to take precautions right now, especially as we head into the holiday season. (Related: Who Is Eligible to Receive a COVID Booster Right Now?)

"We must all take steps to not only prevent getting sick, but also prevent spreading COVID-19 to someone more vulnerable — even if that person is vaccinated and his or her risk is lower than it was previously," adds Dr. Drews.

2. What's risky, what's still safe and when to wear a mask

While COVID-19 cases remain, you might be looking for help understanding what's still safe and what's risky again.

"If you're vaccinated, you can still feel relatively safe gathering indoors with a small group of vaccinated individuals," says Dr. Drews. "You'll want to be more cautious when a larger group is involved or you are in an indoor public space."

If cases are high in your area, Dr. Drews recommends moving large gatherings outdoors, as well as taking extra precautions indoors when you don't know the vaccination status of people around you.

As for those extra precautions, here are some times and places to wear a mask and social distance:

  • While running errands
  • In an indoor public space
  • Attending a worship service
  • While using public transportation (including during domestic travel)
  • In a hospital, clinic or doctor's office
  • Visiting with someone who is high-risk
  • Going to a holiday party or gathering that includes people who are unvaccinated

"You may also choose to be more judicious about traveling and spending time in indoor spaces where wearing a mask and maintaining your distance are challenging — such as at bars, restaurants and group exercise classes, for instance," recommends Dr. Drews.

3. People with weakened immune systems need to be even more cautious

It's currently unclear just how protective COVID-19 vaccines are for people who are immunocompromised. Of note, some individuals, such as transplant recipients or those taking immunosuppressive medications, may not be completely protected even if they are fully vaccinated.

"These individuals will need to take extra precautions — even if fully vaccinated and regardless of whether there's a surge or not," warns Dr. Drews. "Work with your doctor to understand your risk and which precautions you should continue to take."

Those who are immunocompromised are also now eligible to receive an additional dose of vaccine, as are individuals who have a high risk of developing severe COVID-19 or getting COVID-19 (due to working or living in a high risk setting).

"The hope is that an additional shot will increase antibody protection in people who are more vulnerable," adds Dr. Drews.

In addition, everyone should be more cautious when around someone who is immunocompromised, even if the entire group or household is fully vaccinated.

"This is where opting to wear a mask and keep your distance is critical," adds Dr. Drews. "You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting those who are most vulnerable."

4. Parents of unvaccinated children should also be more cautious

Kids aged 5 to 11 and teens are eligible for vaccination. If your child is 5 years of age or older, schedule his or her COVID-19 vaccine appointment today.

Things are a little more complicated for parents of children younger than five, however.

"It's not particularly common for kids to develop a severe case of COVID-19, but it is possible. It's important to be more cautious with your unvaccinated kids," says Dr. Drews.

This likely means choosing to eat on patios rather than dining indoors, as well as taking extra care while considering your family's holiday plans or visiting vulnerable loved ones.

5. What to do if you think you have COVID-19

If you're fully vaccinated and come into close contact someone who's tested positive for COVID-19, get tested three to five days after the exposure.

"It's also recommended that you wear a mask for 14 days after a known exposure — whether you have symptoms or not," adds Dr. Drews.

If you ultimately test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate at home for at least 10 days — even if you're asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms.

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...