You’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But now you’re hearing about breakthrough cases and you’re starting to wonder: Will this happen to me?

The quick answer is that it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll get COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. If you start to notice symptoms, they are much more likely to be from the flu, a cold, allergies or another condition. And if you do end up getting breakthrough COVID-19, your case is likely to be less severe.

Still, it’s important to be prepared and know what to look for. Below we explain what breakthrough COVID-19 is, what to do if you have it and why vaccines are still the best way to stay healthy during the pandemic.

What is a "breakthrough" COVID-19 case?

When someone is fully vaccinated but still gets COVID-19, it’s called a breakthrough case. Usually breakthrough COVID-19 comes with mild to moderate symptoms, but it is also possible for you to be asymptomatic – meaning you have the virus but have no symptoms at all.

Breakthrough cases are normal. No vaccine prevents against illness 100% of the time – which means there’s always a small chance that you could get sick, even after getting vaccinated against other viruses. But the chance of getting sick is always much smaller if you get vaccinated.

Current data on COVID-19 vaccines suggests that all are effective in preventing illness from COVID-19, with the greatest protection from severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

So just because a small percentage of people are testing positive after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, that doesn’t mean that the vaccine doesn’t work and it’s not worth getting. The vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

How many people have gotten COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated?

The truth is, we don’t know the exact number. But consider this:

From January 1 – April 30, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracked the number of reported breakthrough cases. During this time, 10,262 breakthrough cases were reported – which is about 0.01% of those vaccinated. But people with breakthrough cases may not seek care, especially if their symptoms are minor or they don’t have any symptoms. So, the number of breakthrough infections could have been higher.

Since May, the CDC has been looking at the chance of serious COVID-19 after getting the vaccine, and they’ve found that it’s very rare – less than 0.01%. A common follow-up question is, has anyone died from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated? Again, it’s possible, but even more unlikely.

So, how does that compare to unvaccinated people? Data from the CDC, shows that people who are unvaccinated are five times more likely to get infected, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19.

Since February of 2021, nearly all new COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have been in unvaccinated people. In most states, 97-100% of reported cases are in people who have not been fully vaccinated.

In other words, remaining unvaccinated is a big risk. Do yourself, and your loved ones, a favor and get vaccinated as soon as you can.

Are some people more likely to get breakthrough COVID-19?

There’s no way to predict if you’ll get COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. However, there are a few factors that may make it more likely:

  • You are frequently in close contact with people who may have COVID-19.
  • You have a weakened immune system that makes you more likely to get sick.
  • You get a COVID-19 variant. While the vaccines are effective against many variants, including Delta, they may be less effective against other strains.

If you’re more likely to get COVID-19, changing your behaviors can help. For example, you may consider wearing a mask in most situations and making safer choices for events and family gatherings during COVID-19.

Symptoms of breakthrough COVID-19 cases

The symptoms of breakthrough COVID-19 are the same as with regular COVID-19. However, in the rare case that you get a breakthrough infection, there’s a good chance that your symptoms will be less severe.

Here are the symptoms to watch out for.

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

If you’re fully vaccinated and have any of these symptoms, it’s probably not because of COVID-19. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to flu symptoms, and seasonal allergy symptoms can look like COVID-19. But it’s also important to pay attention to what your body’s telling you and get help if you’re noticing anything unusual, especially if you have symptoms that can’t be explained by other conditions.

Do you think you have breakthrough COVID-19?

If you’re concerned you have COVID-19, hold off on normal activities and get tested. A COVID-19 test is the only way you’ll know for sure if you have COVID-19. Some people talk to a doctor before getting tested, but it’s not a requirement.

Not sure if you should be tested?

  • Call our nurse line with questions – If you’re a HealthPartners patient, call 800-551-0859. If you’re a Park Nicollet patient, call them directly or use 952-993-4665 after hours.
  • Get treatment from home – You can start a Virtuwell visit without an appointment, or simply schedule a video visit with your primary care doctor or clinician.

What you can do to help prevent breakthrough COVID-19

There are things you can do to help prevent breakthrough COVID-19, and slow the spread of new variants of the virus. Here’s where to start:

Get the COVID-19 vaccine

If you haven’t been vaccinated, get the vaccine. And, if you have friends or family who haven’t been vaccinated, share the facts about COVID-19 vaccines and encourage them to get vaccinated.

Vaccines are still the best tool to get the pandemic under control. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and very effective at lowering your chances of getting the virus – including reducing the severity of your symptoms in the extremely rare chance you get a breakthrough case.

Does the vaccine prevent you from spreading COVID-19?

People often ask, can you spread COVID-19 after getting vaccinated? The answer to this question seems to be changing. Newer strains of the coronavirus appear to be more contagious but being vaccinated still helps.

The CDC says that fully vaccinated people who get the Delta variant of COVID-19 can spread the virus – even if they don’t have any symptoms. The one difference is that vaccinated people seem to be infectious for a shorter amount of time than people who are unvaccinated. So, being vaccinated can still reduce the number of people infected by the virus.

Mask up

New variants can increase your chance of getting a breakthrough case, and your chance of spreading the virus – even if you don’t have any symptoms.

The CDC now recommends that everyone, even those who’ve been vaccinated, return to wearing masks when indoors in public spaces. And if your county has a substantial or high chance of COVID-19 transmission, the CDC recommends wearing a mask outdoors as well.

Even if you’re in one of the few areas with a low rate of COVID-19 spread, you may still want to wear a mask if you or a family member has a weakened immune system or is at risk of severe disease. Another reason to continue masking in public is if someone in your household is unvaccinated.

Get tested if you’re exposed to COVID-19

If you’ve been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, it’s a good idea to get tested for COVID-19 three to five days later, even if you’re not showing symptoms. It’s also best to wear a mask in public indoor spaces for two weeks or until you have a negative COVID-19 test.

Working together, we can break through the pandemic

Thanks to the millions of people who got the COVID-19 vaccine, we made real progress in controlling the pandemic. While the new variants are making things more difficult, we can still beat COVID-19 if we work together.

Even with breakthrough cases of COVID-19, getting the vaccine and a COVID-19 booster shot is still the best thing to do to keep yourself and others healthy. Following updated masking recommendations should help, too.