Dr. Fauci Says This Is How You Can Catch COVID Even If You're Vaccinated

The top infectious disease expert is reminding the public that no immunization is perfect.

The U.S. is continuing to speed up vaccine rollout, and if the current pace holds, half of people in the U.S. will have received their first shot by the end of this week (Johnson & Johnson pause aside). But during a virtual White House briefing on April 12, Anthony Fauci, MD, reminded the public that despite being highly effective at protecting against COVID-19, it's still possible to catch the virus even if you're vaccinated. Read on to see how you could get sick after your shots, and for more on what you still shouldn't do after you're immunized, The CDC Is Warning You to Avoid This One Place, Even If You're Vaccinated.

Fauci explained that no vaccine is 100 percent effective.

A woman sitting at a laptop holding her head and looking fatigued, perhaps suffering from long COVID
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While addressing reporters, Fauci explained how some patients could become infected with COVID even after being fully vaccinated, citing what is known as a "breakthrough infection."

"We see this with all vaccines, in clinical trials and in the real world. No vaccine is 100 percent efficacious or effective, which means that we will always see breakthrough infections, regardless of the efficacy of the vaccine," Fauci explained.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are about 90 percent effective against COVID and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66 percent effective against COVID infection.

And to see where the virus is surging again, check out These 9 States Are Seeing the Worst COVID Spikes Right Now.

Vaccines can fail because of individual immune responses or fading immunity.

Woman getting COVID vaccine
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Fauci went on to describe the ways vaccines sometimes fall short of their protective goals. "There's 'primary vaccine failure,' when the body actually doesn't amount an adequate immune response for a number of reasons. It could be immune status, health status, age, medications you're on, or something wrong with the vaccines—storage, delivery, composition," he explained.

"'Secondary vaccine failure' may occur when immunity fades over time," Fauci then explained. "Now, a vaccine may fail also if a person is exposed to a new or a different strain or a variant. For example, influenza is the most common of this, which mutates rapidly and drifts, genetically, generally from season to season." He added that "even on a very good year, it's 40 to 60 percent effective."

And for more important updates, check out This Is What It Means If You Have No Vaccine Side Effects, Doctors Say.

Serious forms of disease can be prevented by vaccines.

One nurse looking at the medical ventilator screen.
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Fauci then explained that despite not being able to keep people from becoming ill 100 percent of the time, immunizations were still highly successful at one important thing: preventing serious illness or death. "Even if a vaccine fails to protect against infection, it often protects against serious disease," Fauci said.

The top infectious disease expert went on to use the common flu as an example of why the shots can be so important, pointing out health data from the 2019-2020 season that showed 7.5 million illnesses and 6,300 deaths were prevented in a year when the administered vaccine was only 39 percent effective. "If you get vaccinated, no doubt you're less likely to get the flu. But even if you do get flu and get sick, vaccination can reduce the severity and duration of illness and could help get you out of trouble," he said.

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Fauci believes we're pulling back on safety measures too soon.

Young people with face masks on chins toasting with champagne flutes amid coronavirus
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Despite the successes the U.S. has seen with increasing vaccinations, Fauci is also concerned about recent developments that could bring about another surge in cases. During an appearance on CNN later that day, Fauci said it was important that we didn't "declare victory prematurely" and erase the progress that we've made.

"We see so many pulling back on some of the public health measures, the mask mandates, the restaurant opening, the bars, we can't be doing that," Fauci told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "We've got to wait a bit longer until we get enough vaccine into people that we will clearly blunt any surge."

According to Fauci, the combination of keeping up the pace of vaccinations and doubling down on safety measures can create a "turnaround" that would bring case numbers down again. And for more on how effective your shots are, check out This Is How Long the Moderna Vaccine Really Protects You, New Study Says.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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