It’s true that some people have tested positive for the coronavirus even after getting a vaccine, but that is no indication the vaccines don’t work.
On the contrary, public health experts say the evidence is overwhelming that the shots are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. They dramatically reduce your chances of severe illness and death.
“I lose infinitely more sleep over the fact that we have such large numbers of unvaccinated people who are at a tremendous risk of developing severe disease,” Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, an immunologist and professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, told NBC News. “We shouldn’t be complacent or cavalier about it, but it pales in comparison to the question of how we get as many people as possible vaccinated.”
As of July 12, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had counted 5,492 patients who had wound up in the hospital or died of the coronavirus after receiving a vaccine. That might sound like a lot, but given the fact that more than 159 million people have been vaccinated, the number actually works out to about three one-thousandths of a percentage point. That’s 0.003454%.
There isn’t a separate count of mild or asymptomatic breakthroughs, although the CDC is tracking those through studies such as one that gives weekly virus tests to more than 5,000 essential workers.
Public health experts say breakthrough infections tend to be mild because a vaccinated person’s immune system doesn’t have to start from scratch to fight the coronavirus. University of Pennsylvania immunologist Scott Hensley told The Associated Press that even if the virus sneaks past vaccine-spurred antibodies and starts replicating in a patient’s nose or throat, secondary defenses jump into action, generally stopping the virus in its tracks within a few days.
The experts do point out that the vaccines don’t work as well in people with severely weak immune systems, such as the recipients of organ transplants. And the government is keeping an eye out for signs that breakthrough cases are rising because that might signal the need for booster vaccinations.
In the meantime, though, public health experts are working hard to counter the misinformation that has kept millions of people from rolling up their sleeves.
“The vaccines were developed to keep us out of those terrible institutions we call hospitals,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told The AP. “We have to keep coming back to that.”
The message is clear: This virus is spreading almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. If you haven’t already done so, get a shot.
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.