Yes, you can still get infected with Covid-19 after being vaccinated. Here's why

On December 18, a San Diego emergency room nurse was given a shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. A week later, he tested positive for the virus,...

Posted: Jan 8, 2021 11:34 AM
Updated: Jan 8, 2021 2:30 PM

On December 18, a San Diego emergency room nurse was given a shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. A week later, he tested positive for the virus, CNN affiliate KGTV reported.

Stories like this will become more common as millions of Americans are administered the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines over the coming months. Over time, many who are vaccinated will still get infected with the novel coronavirus.

During trials, the vaccines were shown to be about 95% effective — which means some vaccinated people were still infected.

Here's how and why:

Immunity doesn't kick in right away

It takes time for vaccines to build up immunity, and the two authorized coronavirus vaccines both require two doses, given several weeks apart, to train the body's immune system. People can be exposed to coronavirus right before being vaccinated, or right after, and there won't be time for the body to develop its defenses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says building immunity 'typically takes a few weeks.'

'That means it's possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick,' the CDC says.

The 95% efficacy number for the Covid-19 vaccines also assumes some built-in wait time. Moderna measured the efficacy of its vaccine starting 14 days after the second dose, while Pfizer measured it starting seven days after the second dose.

Vaccines might not provide perfect protection

No vaccine is 100% effective, and the makers of coronavirus vaccines are still evaluating whether the shots protect against all infections, or just those that cause symptoms.

The CDC estimates that 40% of coronavirus infections don't cause symptoms, and the trials of both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines looked only at whether the vaccines prevented symptomatic infections.

Moderna said in December it had submitted data to the US Food and Drug Administration showing its vaccine prevented 2/3 of all infections, including asymptomatic infections. For now, the CDC recommends that people not assume they are completely immune to infection after having been vaccinated.

Overall, both vaccines provided about 95% protection in clinical trials -- so a small number of people might still catch the virus even after two shots. In wider use, this efficacy rate may go down as people with varying levels of immune system response get vaccinated and then go out into the world.

It's not because the vaccine gave you the virus

The current coronavirus vaccines cannot infect anyone with the virus. They don't contain the virus.

Instead, they carry a small stretch of genetic material known as messenger RNA or mRNA. It instructs cells in the body to make a small piece of material that looks like a part of the virus. Those bits, in turn, get recognized by the immune system as a foreign invader, and it starts to make antibodies and immune cells that can recognize and neutralize the virus if the vaccinated person ever gets exposed.

'None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19,' the CDC says.

Immunity may wane over time

No one knows how long the vaccines out now will protect people from infection.

The novel coronavirus has only been around for about a year, and the final phases of testing the vaccines only wrapped up a few weeks ago. Pfizer and Moderna followed volunteers for at least two months after their second doses.

Protection provided by vaccines can fade over time, and some vaccines require a booster shot years later. For example, the CDC recommends adults get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years. During measles or mumps outbreaks, the CDC says some people 'may be recommended' to get an additional dose of the MMR vaccine for added protection.

There is also the possibility that the novel coronavirus might mutate in a way that makes the vaccines less effective. Influenza virus strains mutate constantly and that's one reason people need fresh flu vaccines every year.

Doctors hope coronavirus won't mutate like flu does. If that does happen, however, the technology used to make the new coronavirus vaccines is designed to be easily adapted. It should take far less time to update the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines than it takes to make new flu vaccines.

Others might not be safe from you

Health officials from Dr. Anthony Fauci on down are cautioning people that no one can dump the the face masks and social distancing behavior just because they've been vaccinated.

That's because even people who are themselves immune to the virus might be exposed to it and transmit it to others. It can grow in the nose, says Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

'It's possible that someone could get the vaccine but could still be an asymptomatic carrier,' said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician. 'They may not show symptoms, but they have the virus in their nasal passageway so that if they're speaking, breathing, sneezing and so on, they can still transmit it to others.'

Given these unanswered questions, the CDC says vaccinated people should still use 'all the tools available to us' to stop the pandemic, including wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 38°
Muscle Shoals
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 40°
Huntsville/Madison
Clear
42° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 38°
Decatur
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 37°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 33°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 436087

Reported Deaths: 6486
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63969994
Mobile31211565
Madison27851208
Tuscaloosa21233271
Montgomery19698326
Shelby19093130
Baldwin16981188
Lee13036105
Morgan12526134
Etowah11987179
Calhoun11441206
Marshall10357123
Houston8886158
Limestone827876
Cullman8203108
Elmore8120104
DeKalb7828103
Lauderdale7798103
St. Clair7763125
Talladega6394111
Walker6002177
Jackson594644
Colbert545276
Blount543986
Autauga532761
Coffee456762
Dale406883
Franklin372448
Russell349212
Chilton342873
Covington336068
Escambia330144
Dallas312096
Tallapoosa3120107
Chambers301170
Clarke293336
Pike261131
Marion251558
Lawrence250752
Winston232742
Bibb221248
Geneva208746
Marengo206529
Pickens199031
Hale182742
Barbour179337
Fayette177029
Butler172459
Cherokee164330
Henry158224
Monroe151320
Randolph144336
Washington140127
Clay129146
Crenshaw122944
Macon120937
Cleburne120724
Lamar119721
Lowndes113736
Wilcox106622
Bullock102228
Perry99118
Conecuh96821
Sumter90026
Greene76823
Coosa63215
Choctaw51724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 701847

Reported Deaths: 8777
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby779711168
Davidson72385688
Knox39701432
Hamilton35466337
Rutherford33860294
Unassigned23587134
Williamson21906144
Sumner18644232
Out of TN1615282
Montgomery14979149
Wilson14728164
Sullivan12893218
Blount12267132
Washington12102203
Maury11179128
Bradley1108895
Sevier10704120
Putnam10116151
Madison9273183
Robertson782687
Hamblen7172117
Anderson6947114
Greene6719115
Tipton632969
Gibson5733114
Coffee573282
Dickson552682
Cumberland550576
Bedford540391
Roane530081
Lawrence518869
Carter5171115
McMinn516774
Warren504454
Loudon503550
Jefferson490178
Dyer483386
Monroe467063
Hawkins455272
Franklin420065
Fayette408751
Obion404582
Rhea388457
Lincoln385546
Marshall353338
Cocke352758
Cheatham347331
Weakley344248
Henderson336559
Campbell334940
Giles330574
Carroll315860
White315144
Hardeman314054
Hardin304250
Lauderdale296933
Macon293251
Wayne267424
Henry266958
Overton258846
DeKalb246342
McNairy245442
Haywood243747
Smith234230
Marion233932
Trousdale230315
Scott228832
Hickman227835
Claiborne224932
Fentress215734
Grainger214339
Johnson204634
Morgan193916
Crockett182438
Chester177439
Bledsoe177011
Unicoi169545
Cannon160320
Lake157821
Decatur148628
Polk147817
Union143225
Grundy142622
Sequatchie140319
Humphreys136717
Benton133435
Lewis130121
Meigs117616
Stewart109620
Jackson105723
Perry95825
Clay95426
Houston94624
Moore8299
Pickett69020
Van Buren6737
Hancock4177

Community Events