Conversation Guide: Breakthrough Infections

NRC Banner 22

What is a breakthrough infection, and why do they happen?

It is uncommon for people to get COVID-19 after they are vaccinated, but it can happen. Scientists call this a “breakthrough infection.” 

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. However, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19.

Expand all

Do breakthrough infections mean vaccines don’t work?

COVID-19 vaccines work very well. Breakthrough infections are uncommon; most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Even when breakthrough infections do happen, the vaccine still protects almost all vaccinated people from becoming seriously ill or dying.

It seems like a lot of people are getting breakthrough infections. Is it really that uncommon?

Breakthrough infections are uncommon. Tens of millions of people are vaccinated, and that number is growing. This means that even though the risk of breakthrough infections is low, there will still be thousands of fully vaccinated people who become infected and are able to spread the infection to others, so there is a good chance you will hear about them.

Although “thousands” sounds like a lot, it is very few people compared to the tens of millions of people who have gotten COVID-19 vaccines.

Is it worth the risk to get the vaccine if I can still get a breakthrough infection?

The risk of the vaccine is much, much lower than the risk of getting sick from COVID-19.  If you are fully vaccinated you are unlikely to get infected with COVID-19 and spread it to loved ones. Even if you are infected, the vaccine prevents you from getting seriously ill or dying.

The vaccine has been proven safe in hundreds of millions of people of different races, ethnicities, and ages. It is much more likely that you will get serious complications from COVID-19 than from a vaccine. While mild side effects are normal, serious side effects from the vaccine are extremely rare and most people who have them get better. 

How can I protect myself and my family while people keep getting sick?

The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community is to be fully vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, you more likely to get infected, get seriously ill, and spread the virus to others - including your family and friends.

Regardless of whether masks are required in your area, you and your family will be safest if you wear a mask. Even if you are vaccinated, you can catch COVID-19 and may not know it because you may not feel sick at all. This makes it more likely that you could spread it to others. Masks also protect you from COVID-19 because when you wear a mask, it is less likely that you will get sick from breathing in the virus if it is in the air.

Practicing social distancing, avoiding gatherings with many people, and washing your hands frequently are other ways to keep yourself and others safe.
 

I’m hearing of people who are dying from COVID-19 even though they are fully vaccinated. Why should we get vaccinated if people are still dying? 

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. Breakthrough infections are uncommon; most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Even when breakthrough infections do happen, the vaccine still protects almost all vaccinated people from becoming seriously ill or dying.

In very rare cases, people with serious medical issues, who are older, or who have a medical condition that causes their immune system to have more difficulty fighting off infections and diseases (called immunocompromised), can get dangerously ill from COVID-19 and even die after they are vaccinated. This is one of the reasons people are getting booster shots or third doses.

It’s important to remember that if you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you are: 

  • Nearly five times less likely to get infected 
  • 10 times less likely to be hospitalized
  • 11 times less likely to die from COVID-19, as compared to someone who is unvaccinated. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community from getting dangerously ill from COVID-19. If you are worried, you can talk to your doctor about your concerns and they can speak to you about your specific risks.