Coronavirus vaccines are hailed as a marvel of science and technology and rightly so. Due to widespread vaccination, the average number of new cases of COVID-19 in the United States is the lowest since last fall. Hospitalizations and deaths among older Americans have plummeted. As Anthony Fauci, the best national expert on infectious diseases, exhorts us: “be really grateful that we have three really effective vaccines.”
And despite all the good news about COVID-19 vaccines, you may still find it difficult – and even scary – to deal with the fact that it is still possible to get COVID-1
Wondering why so-called “breakthrough” cases occur and how often they occur? Here are some basic things to keep in mind.
Breakthrough cases are really rare.
First, a simple (but important) reminder from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “No vaccine prevents the disease 100% of the time.” There will be cases of breakthrough for each vaccine. The Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are no exception, and experts have known this from the beginning.
In clinical trials prior to widespread vaccination, Pfizer was 95% effective against symptomatic disease, Moderna was 94.5% effective against symptomatic disease, and Johnson & Johnson was 66% effective in preventing symptomatic disease (as well as 85 % effective in preventing serious diseases).
Since then, the CDC has been tracking real-time outbreaks as millions of Americans have rolled up their sleeves and public health officials have been able to better understand the risks of infection after vaccination. By the end of April, the CDC said that among the more than 95 million people in the United States who had been fully vaccinated, the agency was aware of about 9,000 outbreaks.
“This is not unexpected and the numbers we see now are really insignificant,” Taylor Nelson, an infectious disease specialist at MU Health Care, told HuffPost. “That’s a small percentage – of a percentage – of people who have breakthrough infections.”
Experts are not yet aware of how many breakthrough infections are associated with the anxiety options that groups such as the CDC are tracking, although the earliest evidence of how vaccines persist in real life is promising.
“When we have a case that we think is a breakthrough infection, we try to send the sequencing sample to see: Is there a pattern?” Is this option or this option more likely to give someone a breakthrough? “- said Nelson.” But I do not know that we still have these answers. “
It seems very likely that the cases of breakthrough are less severe.
The CDC is cautious in reselling the issue, saying it “has some evidence that vaccination can make the disease less severe.”
About 27% of the breakthrough cases known to the CDC were asymptomatic infections, for example. This does not mean that really serious results are impossible. There are 835 hospitalizations among those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (although 30% of them are categorized as asymptomatic or unrelated to COVID-19), and there are also 132 deaths – although again, not all of they were necessarily directly related to COVID-19.
“The vaccine still elicits a certain immune response to help your body fight the infection, and this becomes a milder infection,” Nelson said. “Probably less likely to be transmitted.”
There are no clear models for who is at risk.
Current CDC data on breakthrough cases show that about 60% of reported breakthrough infections were in women, although it is too early to say why. This may be due to the fact that women are more likely to seek health care or because women’s immune systems somehow respond differently to the vaccine than men’s.
And about 40% of outbreaks have been in people aged 60 and over, although again, this may be due to the fact that older Americans have been vaccinated in greater numbers. All this means that at this time there are no really clear models of who appears to be at greater risk of a breakthrough infection.
“I don’t know that there is still a model we can really identify,” Nelson said. “I would say something we think about, obviously these are the new options that are out there.”
It is also worth noting that it is not yet entirely clear how long immunity lasts after vaccination, although studies show that it is at least six months. So in the future, there may be some confusion about the real cases of breakthroughs compared to those that occur when people’s immunity potentially begins to weaken.
“Unfortunately, only time can tell us how long these vaccines will be as effective as they are,” Nelson said. “I think the general idea is that it’s probably at least a year.” But we won’t really have a clear idea about that until next fall or winter, she added.
It is important to be aware of and follow the changing recommendations for life after the vaccine.
The CDC is slowly changing its guidelines on what people can do once they are fully vaccinated. It’s a good idea to get together with a small group of friends outdoors while you’re in disguise, for example, or to walk or ride a bike. If you are fully vaccinated, it is generally safe to travel to the United States. Our current COVID-19 vaccines do provide stable protection, and health experts want everyone who is really hungry for normalcy, connection, and physical attachment to enjoy free vaccinations.
Remember: the fact that there have been breakthroughs (and there will continue to be) is not a failure of the vaccine in any way, “Nelson said.
But there are still times when the CDC calls on fully vaccinated Americans to take preventative measures such as wearing masks, maintaining social distance and washing their hands – especially when you are in a crowded or poorly ventilated area.
“If you’re around people who haven’t been fully vaccinated, or if you’re around someone who can’t be vaccinated … or you’re in a crowd or a poorly ventilated area, it’s probably important to keep doing these other mitigation measures,” he said. Nelson.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidelines may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest recommendations.