You’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But you’re wondering: Can you get COVID-19 even if you are fully vaccinated?

The COVID-19 vaccines offer great protection, but some people still get COVID-19 after vaccination. Although if you do end up getting breakthrough COVID-19, your case is likely to be less severe.

Below, we explain what breakthrough COVID-19 is, what to do if you have it and why the COVID-19 vaccine is still the best way to protect yourself from the coronavirus.

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. However, getting the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of getting sick.

How likely are you to get COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated?

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing illness from COVID-19, especially severe illness, hospitalizations and death. Your protection is even greater if you’ve gotten all the recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Data from the CDC shows that, in February 2023, adults who had gotten a dose of the bivalent vaccine were:

  • Six times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to people who were unvaccinated.
  • 1.4 times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to people who were vaccinated but who hadn’t gotten a bivalent dose.

So even though some people test positive after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, that doesn’t mean that the vaccine doesn’t work. The vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself and others from the effects of COVID-19.

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’re frequently in close contact with people who may have COVID-19.
  • You’re over 65 years old.
  • You have a weakened immune system or a chronic health condition that makes you more likely to get sick.

Breakthrough COVID-19 symptoms

The symptoms of breakthrough COVID-19 are the same as with regular COVID-19. However, if you get a breakthrough infection, it’s likely 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

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to flu symptoms, and seasonal allergy symptoms can look like COVID-19. So, it’s 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.

What’s the treatment for breakthrough COVID-19?

If you get a breakthrough case, chances are it will be minor, and you’ll be able to treat your mild COVID-19 symptoms at home.

If you test positive for COVID-19 at a HealthPartners clinic and are at risk of getting severe COVID-19, we’ll contact you directly about your treatment options. If your positive result was from a home test, call your clinic.

What’s the treatment for breakthrough COVID-19?

If you get a breakthrough case, chances are it will be minor, and you’ll be able to treat your mild COVID-19 symptoms at home.

If you‘re at least 65 years old or immunocompromised, your doctor may recommend certain treatments that can prevent severe COVID-19.

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:

1. Get the recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses

If you haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, get the vaccine. And if you have been vaccinated, make sure you’ve gotten all the COVID-19 vaccine doses you can get. 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 keep COVID-19 under control. The vaccine is safe and very effective at reducing your chance of severe illness, hospitalization or death if you get a breakthrough case.

Getting vaccinated also makes it less likely that you will have long-haul COVID-19 symptoms that can last for months after getting sick.

Does the vaccine prevent you from spreading COVID-19?

Getting the vaccine reduces your chance of getting sick and spreading COVID-19. But if you do get sick, you can still spread COVID-19, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

2. Stay home and test for COVID-19 if you have symptoms

If you think you might have COVID-19, hold off on normal activities and get tested.

There are different types of COVID-19 tests. Getting a PCR test at a doctor’s office is the best way to find out if you have COVID-19. At-home antigen tests are also an option, but false negative results are possible. So, the Food and Drug Administration recommends doing at least two antigen tests over three days with at least 48 hours in between. If you have two negative results from antigen tests, you’re considered negative for COVID-19.

3. Mask up if you want to

As of Spring 2023, it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in a situation that still requires a mask. But it’s totally fine if you want to wear a mask even if you aren’t required to. Wearing a mask helps protect you and others from a range of viruses and germs.