Even the Vaccinated Can Still Get COVID-19

Salvador Macip, MD, PhD

Disclosures

July 19, 2021

I have tested positive for COVID-19. A month ago, I received the second jab of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Moreover, I've been cautious since then, still using masks, keeping the distance and reducing my social interactions to the minimum necessary. I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home most of the time; I only need to go to my lab once or twice a week. On top of that, we haven't invited anybody home and we haven't visited any friends or family indoors in recent months. And, despite all this, my wife, my teenaged son, and I got the virus.

It's an extreme case of bad luck, obviously. We are taking very little risks. Also, vaccines not only protect you against the disease, but they also reduce transmission. We've been using lateral flow tests regularly, particularly to detect a positive should our son get infected at school (which is what eventually happened). We've done everything by the book. But it was not enough.

There are a few lessons to extract from this.

First of all, vaccines work.

I have just mild flu-like symptoms, and the risk of me ending up in a hospital is minimal. If this had happened 2 months ago, I would have been scared. I've seen too many close friends and acquaintances, seemingly young(ish) and healthy, needing oxygen and a hospital bed. Being fully immunized, I know this scenario is now very unlikely.

But the second thing to take into consideration is that vaccines are not enough.

They protect us, yes, and they are the main reason why mortality has plummeted in the countries where the rollout has already reached a threshold. However, we need to be cautious. We can still get infected and, more importantly, we can still infect others. Even if the chances of this are small, it can happen. (It happened to me!)

We need to take every step to reduce transmission, even when mortality stops being an issue. Apart from the (perhaps small) percentage of people that are still at risk of having serious complications, we are dealing with the 10%-15% of persistent COVID-19 sufferers and those that experience long-term complications. We have to minimize this.

More importantly, the more the virus circulates, the higher the chances of mutations occurring. One of them could be the one that turns the virus resistant to the antibodies we have already generated, and that would mean starting all over again. Even if this is a remote chance, why risk it?

In the UK, the government of Boris Johnson is backtracking, after a few months of rather good decisions, and now suggesting that we should "live with the virus ," as they proposed at the beginning of the pandemic. This, in practice, means "let the young get infected because they are not going to die of this." This is a big mistake. I'm proof that, even vaccinated, you can get the virus. A fraction of the infected will need to go to the doctor, and we risk saturating primary care (as is already happening in countries such as Spain). Another fraction will get persistent COVID-19 and other complications. And remember the increased chance of mutations and other complications. And even if they are just a few, some will still die.

We need to fight this until it's over.

Let's stop the spread of the virus as much as possible. Let's vaccinate as fast as we can, but let's not take this as a free pass to go back to normal. We still need to be careful, even with full immunization. There are many good reasons to do so, and we have to explain this well to everyone.

Let me know if you had a similar experience with the vaccine and what you think would be the best course of action in the current situation.

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About Dr Salvador Macip
Salvador Macip, MD, PhD is a doctor, researcher and writer. He obtained his MD/PhD at the University of Barcelona (Spain) in 1998, then moved to do oncological research at the Mount Sinai Hospital (New York). Since 2008, he has led the Mechanisms of Ageing and Cancer Lab at the University of Leicester (UK). Macip has published over 30 books, including Where Science and Ethics Meet (2016) and Modern Epidemics (2021). Connect with him on Twitter: @DrMacip

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