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

Published on: Jul 22, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
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COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization, but breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people are still possible —  though rare. (Think: As of July 12, only 5,492 hospitalized or fatal breakthrough cases were reported to the CDC out of more than 159 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.

Earlier this week, a White House official and a senior aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both tested positive for COVID-19 — even though they were 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 92 other countries. 

There are still many unknowns surrounding the impact of the delta variant on fully vaccinated people. For example, it is not fully known whether or not the variant affects the transmission-block capacity of coronavirus vaccines, says Yale professor Dr. Albert Ko

Let’s break that down. Fully vaccinated people — even if they are infected — carry a reduced amount of the virus in their system. Meaning: They are unable to pass the virus onto another person. But the delta variant is saying ‘we’ll see about that.’ So far, data from unvaccinated people who have contracted the variant show a larger viral load present in people’s systems. And this increase may be impacting the fully vaccinated as well — although more research is needed to confirm this possibility. 

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.

Skimm'd by Kamini Ramdeen and Karell Roxas

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