What to Know about Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections

Aug 9, 2022

More than 215 million Americans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by March 2022. Despite the high numbers of vaccinations, COVID-19 infections continue, with an average of more than 75,000 new cases daily in late February 2022. Some of these cases include breakthrough cases, i.e., infections in people who have been fully vaccinated for 14 days or more.

COVID-19 vaccines are very effective, but they do not provide 100 percent protection against infection. Although a vaccine does not guarantee that a person will not get COVID-19, it does provide immense protection and saves lives. Here’s what you should know about breakthrough COVID-19 infections.

Milder Symptoms

If a fully vaccinated person gets COVID-19, it is possible they will have milder symptoms or even no symptoms. Even when COVID-19 symptoms aren’t so mild, it appears the vaccine provides significant protection against severe illness. Data from January 2022 showed unvaccinated people were 16 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals. Likewise, unvaccinated people were 14 times more likely to die after a COVID-19 infection.

Lower Chance of Long COVID

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that about 40 percent of people who had COVID-19 experienced long-term symptoms, commonly known as long COVID. Those numbers go up among people who were hospitalized with the illness. People most often dealt with fatigue, while insomnia, shortness of breath, memory problems, and other issues have been reported.

While people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can still become infected, emerging research suggests that the vaccine may protect against long COVID symptoms. According to one study, vaccinated people who also became infected with COVID-19 were 54–68 percent less likely to report long COVID symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain.

The Best Protection

Experts have continued to study the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the pandemic. As new variants emerge to test the vaccines’ capabilities, the shots have remained the best tool to fight the virus. Even with the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant, vaccines have offered significant protection.

Recent research has shown that vaccines have continued to protect against severe disease, even during surges attributed to the omicron variant. Protection waned over time, but a booster dose raised effectiveness levels. During omicron, the effectiveness of the vaccine with a booster dose was 87 percent against visits to urgent care and 91 percent against hospitalization.

“While breakthrough COVID-19 infections are possible, it is still vital for people to get a COVID-19 vaccination,” says Robert Gerken, administrator at Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “A vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 infection and reduce the severity of the disease.”

It is possible to get COVID-19 even after getting fully vaccinated against the virus. However, vaccinated individuals are less likely to be hospitalized or die from the illness. Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated and boosted to protect yourself from this virus.