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I have a ‘mild’ breakthrough. Here’s what I wish I knew.

By Will Stone

Monday, September 20, 2021 (Kaiser News) – The test results on the hot day in early August should not have surprised me – all the symptoms were there. A few days before, fatigue enveloped me like a weighted blanket. I got it until my travel weekend. Next, a headache clamped to the back of my skull. Then my eyeballs started to ache. And soon enough, everything tastes like nothing.

As a reporter who the coronavirus Since the first confirmed U.S. case ended up in Seattle, where I live, I should have known what was coming, but there was a part of me that could not really believe it. I had a breakthrough case of covid-19-despite my two recordings of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second one in April.

I was just another example of our country’s tug of war between fantasies of a post-covid summer and the realities of our still furious pandemic, in which even the vaccinated can become ill.

Not only was I sick, but I exposed my 67-year-old father and extended family during my first trip back to the East Coast since the onset of the pandemic. It was just the scenario I had been trying to avoid for a year and a half.

Where did I get it? Who knows. Like so many Americans, I relaxed all the time wearing masks and taking physical distance after being fully vaccinated. We flew through the country, saw friends, stayed in a hotel, ate indoors and yes, even went after a long delayed wedding with other vaccinated.

I end up in quarantine at my dad’s house. Two quick antigen tests (one day apart) come back negative, but I could see that I was starting to get sick. After my second negative test, the nurse leveled with me. “Don’t hang your hat on this,” she said of the results. A few days later, the results of a PCR test for the coronavirus (this one sent to a laboratory) confirmed what then became clear.


It was a miserable five days. My legs and arms were sore, mine fever crawls to 103 and every few hours sleep leaving my sheets drenched in sweat. I would fall exhausted in bed after a quick visit to the kitchen. To sum it up, I put my breakthrough case of covid with my worst flu attacks there. Even after my fever broke, I felt low for the next few weeks.

I am obviously very happy. I did not naively climb against the virus Immune system, as millions of Americans did before vaccines became widely available. And in large parts of the world, vaccines are still a distant promise.

“You would probably have become much sicker if you had not been vaccinated,” Dr. Francesca Torriani, an infectious physician at the University of California-San Diego, recently explained to me.

As I moved around my room and checked my fever, it was also reassuring to know that my chances of ending up in the hospital were slim, even if the delta variant. And now, about a month later, I have fully recovered.

The reality is that breakthrough cases are becoming more common. Here’s what I wish I had known when the first symptoms made me low.

1. Is it time for a reality check on what the vaccines can and cannot do?

The vaccines are not a force field that fights everything against covid. They got the green light because they significantly reduce your chances of getting seriously ill or dying.

But it was easy for me – and I’m not the only one – to get the idea that the vaccine was more or less the finish line after so many months of trying not to get covid. And it made the disease feel uncomfortable from the virus.

After all, there were reassuring findings earlier this year that the vaccine was remarkably good at stopping any infection, even mild ones.

“There was so much initial euphoria about how well these vaccines work,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, a physician for infectious diseases and the public health officer of Seattle and King County, said. “I think we – in the public health community, in the medical community – have eased the impression that these vaccines are bulletproof.”


It is difficult to adjust your risk calculations. So if you were hoping not to get a little sick, it might be time for a reset, Duchin said. This is not an alarm, but a reminder to dispel the expectations that covid is out of your life, and to be vigilant with precautions.

2. How big is my chance of getting a breakthrough these days?

It used to be pretty rare, but the rise of delta changed the odds.

“It’s a very different ball game with this delta phase,” says dr. Eric Topol, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego. ‘I think the chance of symptomatic infection has increased significantly.

But it is very challenging to quantify it in the US because our ‘data is so sloppy’, he said.

The vaccinated still have a significantly lower chance of becoming infected than those who are not so protected. Los Angeles County collected data over the summer as the delta variant began to increase: people who were not vaccinated were five times more likely to test positive than those who were vaccinated.

3. How careful must I be if I want to avoid a breakthrough?

Looking back, I wish I had taken more precautions.

And my advice to friends and family now is: Wear masks, stay away from large gatherings with people who have not been vaccinated and reduce travel, at least until things calm down.

The U.S. is averaging more than 150,000 coronavirus infections a day (about twice what I was when I got sick), hospitals are overwhelmed and the White House has given a boost. Scientists still make sense of what happens to breakthroughs.

In many parts of the US, we are all more likely to run the virus than in the spring. “Your risk will be different if you are in a very vaccinated place, with a very low distribution in the community,” says Dr. Preeti Malani, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Michigan. “The most important thing is what happens in your community.”

4. How does a ‘mild’ case of covid feel?


In my case it was worse than I expected, but in the language of public health it was ‘light’, meaning I did not end up in the hospital and did not need oxygen either.

This soft category is essentially a summary, says dr. Robert Wachter, Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. “Moderate” can range from “a day when I feel clumsy to lying in bed for a week, all your legs hurt and your brain is not working properly.”

There is not much information about the details of these mild breakthrough infections, but so far it seems that ‘you are doing better than those who have not been vaccinated’, said dr. Sarang Yoon, a specialist in occupational medicine at the University of Utah, said. from a nationwide study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on breakthrough infections.

Yoon’s study, published in June with data collected before the delta boom, found that the incidence of fever was halved and that beds were reduced by 60% in people with breakthrough infections, compared to humans. which has not been vaccinated.

If you are vaccinated, the risk of being admitted to hospital is 10 times lower than if you were not vaccinated, according to the latest data from the CDC. Those who become seriously and critically ill with a breakthrough tend to be older – in one study done before delta, the median age was 80.5 – with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

5. Can I distribute it to others, and should I isolate it?

Unfortunately, you still have covid and you have to act that way.

Although my first two tests were negative, I started wearing a mask at home and kept my distance from my vaccinated family members. I’m glad I did: No one else got sick.

The delta variant is more than twice as contagious as the original strain of the virus and can build up quickly in your upper airways, as shown in a group of breakthrough infections linked to Provincetown, Massachusetts during the summer.


“Even with fully vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals, they may have enough virus to transmit it,” says Dr. Robert Darnell, a doctor-scientist at Rockefeller University.

Science has not been determined on the likelihood that vaccines can spread the virus, and it seems that the amount of virus in the nose decreases faster with vaccines.

Still, wearing masks and staying isolated from others if you have positive test or symptoms is absolutely critical, Darnell said.

Can I get a long covid disease after a breakthrough infection?

Although there is not much data yet, research does show that breakthrough infections can lead to the kind of persistent symptoms that characterize long covid, including brain fog, fatigue and headaches. ‘Hopefully the number is low. “Hopefully it will not take that long and it will not be that bad, but it is just too early to know these things,” said Topol.

Recent research from the UK suggests that people who are vaccinated are about 50% less likely to develop long covid than those who are not vaccinated.

This story comes from a reporting partnership that includes NPR and KHN.

Kaiser Health News WebMD News

© 2013-2020 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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