Breakthrough Infections – Does It Mean the Vaccine Has Stopped Working?



A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer

The issue of breakthrough infections is increasingly being discussed in the media and elsewhere. With so much information circulating about COVID-19, vaccines and case numbers, it can be hard to know what is real. We're here to answer what this means for you!

Can I still get COVID-19 after getting vaccinated?

First of all, let's talk about what a COVID-19 “breakthrough infection" is. A breakthrough infection is an infection that happens after your body has had a chance to develop full protection from the COVID-19 vaccine, in other words, more than two weeks after the second dose.

So how does this happen? Well, since no vaccine is 100% effective, we expect some breakthrough infections to happen. So while it is true that some people may get sick with COVID-19 after being vaccinated, only a very small proportion will.

And even if this does happen, the vaccine will still help you as your body will be better prepared to fight the virus. People who are vaccinated get much less sick and are less likely to be hospitalized or die than those who are unvaccinated. This is actually the main purpose the vaccines were made for – to keep people from getting really sick and to reduce the spread of infection.

BC data shows that the number of cases of COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people is 10x higher among unvaccinated people compared with those who have been fully vaccinated. The hospitalization rate among unvaccinated people is even higher, with it being 17x greater as compared with those who have been fully vaccinated. That's a lot! Similar results are emerging for case rates and hospitalizations in First Nations in BC.

But then why is the number of breakthrough infections going up?

When there is more virus circulating, like it is during this fourth wave, the chance that anybody gets infected goes up – including people who are fully vaccinated. We also need to look at the number of breakthrough infections in light of the total number of people who have been vaccinated – as more and more of us get vaccinated, millions of people just in BC, the number of infections found in vaccinated people will go up. But remember, vaccinated people who do get sick are still much less likely to get severely sick.

We are also keeping a close eye on the Delta variant, which is the main variant circulating now​. This variant is better at moving from person to person, and can make unvaccinated people even more sick than the original virus. People who have had only one shot are also getting sick more often than they did with previous variants. But the good news is that the vaccines still provide excellent protection against hospitalization and death for people who have been vaccinated – especially after completing both doses!​

What does it all mean?

Even if you are vaccinated, it is possible to get COVID-19, but this is much less likely to happen and you will be protected from severe disease. This is true even with the Delta variant being in BC. It is more important than ever to ensure you get both doses of the vaccine so you are fully vaccinated – and fully protected. Continue to follow health protocols - like wearing a mask, stay safe and if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, be sure to get tested even if you are fully vaccinated (link to testing info on bccdc) as you can still spread the disease.

The vaccines are working! They are saving lives, and so can you - thank you for doing your part by getting vaccinated to protect yourself, your family and community.​


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