What Fully Vaccinated People Need to Know About COVID-19 Exposure

Published on: Aug 10, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
breakthrough infectionGetty Images

COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization, but breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people are still possible —  though rare. As of August 2, only 7,252 hospitalized or fatal breakthrough cases were reported to the CDC out of more than 164 million vaccinated people in the US — that’s less than 1%. Despite the rarity, high-profile reports of breakthrough cases are starting to hit the headlines.

In early August, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he tested positive for COVID-19, even after being fully vaccinated. And credited the vaccine with giving him more mild symptoms than he could have had. In July, a White House official and a senior aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) both tested positive for the virus after being fully vaccinated. Separately, six fully vaccinated Texas Dems traveling on a private plane also tested positive for COVID-19.And some Olympians who got the jab(s) reported a positive test for the virus ahead of the Tokyo games.

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Business Insider that the delta variant may be increasing the odds of infections in vaccinated people. The variant was first detected in India and spurred a massive outbreak there. Now, it’s the most dominant strain in the US. And has also spread to at least 132 other countries. 

There are still some unknowns surrounding the impact of the delta variant on fully vaccinated people. In July, the CDC said data shows that vaccinated people are also capable of spreading the delta variant, which is highly transmissible. It prompted the agency to update its fully vaccinated guidance to suggest that those people wear masks indoors and in public. It’s not totally clear how likely they are to transmit the virus compared to those who are unvaccinated.

Now, if you’re fully vaccinated and find yourself with the rare possibility of having a breakthrough infection, here’s what you need to know.

When you should and shouldn’t get tested… 

If you’re experiencing symptoms: The CDC recommends getting tested and isolating yourself from others. They also advise that you get checked out, and remember to tell your health care provider that you are fully vaccinated at your appointment.

If you’re symptom-free: The CDC says ‘go on, and live your life.’ There’s no need to quarantine, get tested, or be restricted from work after you’re exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. But, they do recommend that you monitor yourself for symptoms for at least 14 days following exposure. And there are some exceptions. If you work or reside in a correctional or detention facility, or a homeless shelter you should get tested, but you don’t need to quarantine.

What you should do if you test positive… 

If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, it’s likely that you are also contagious, Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said. Meanwhile, another expert told CNN that using the “common sense test” may be necessary when dealing with a fully vaccinated but positive COVID-19 test. Especially since the current CDC guidelines lack “nuance.” Meaning: Your course of action depends on your living and working situations. For example, if you’re taking care of someone who has COVID-19, it may make sense to stay home from work and quarantine.

Meanwhile, the CDC recommends that a fully vaccinated person who tests positive and shows symptoms of COVID-19 isolate themselves and stay away from others for 10 days.


No vaccine guarantees 100% protection from COVID-19, but they do help prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death if a breakthrough infection occurs. And as officials fill in the blanks about the impact of the delta variant on vaccine efficacy and transmission, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest guidelines for fully vaccinated people, pay attention to how you’re feeling, and take the recommended actions if you were exposed.

Updated on August 10 – Updated to include the latest numbers and news on breakthrough cases in the US.

Skimm'd by Maria Martinolich, Kamini Ramdeen, and Karell Roxas

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