You’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But now you’re hearing about breakthrough cases and you’re starting to wonder: Can you get COVID-19 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 vaccines, booster shots and immunocompromised doses are 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 may significantly reduce 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 get one or two booster shots when you’re eligible.

When looking at the hospitalization rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, it’s clear that the vaccine provides protection.

Hospitalization rates compared to unvaccinated individuals

Fully vaccinated Vaccinated with booster
All adults 5 times lower 7 times lower
Adults 65 and older 6 times lower 9 times lower
Children 5-17 2 times lower Data not available

Even more significantly, data shows that an unvaccinated person is 21 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to someone who received the vaccine and booster dose(s).

So, because some people are testing 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 eligible for a booster shot and haven’t gotten one.
  • You have a medical condition that makes you more likely to get sick. If you have a weakened immune system or a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor about long-acting monoclonal antibodies that may reduce your chance of getting severe COVID-19.

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.

Breakthrough COVID-19 symptoms

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

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.

If you think you might have COVID-19, hold off on normal activities and get tested. There are different types of COVID-19 tests, including antigen tests you can do at home. You can also get a PCR test for COVID-19 at one of our testing facilities.

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 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 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 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 last for month after getting sick.

Get your booster shot or immunocompromised dose

Additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine can boost or extend your protection against new variants. So, it’s best to get all the recommended booster shots and immunocompromised doses, even if you’ve had COVID-19 before.

Does the vaccine prevent you from spreading COVID-19?

Getting the vaccine, and the appropriate booster shots and immunocompromised doses, 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. Mask up

As COVID-19 changes, the CDC continues to update masking guidelines . Here are things to consider when deciding whether to wear a mask:

  • The spread of COVID-19 within your community. If the COVID-19 transmission rate for your county is high, you should wear a mask in public indoor spaces. If the level is medium or low, you may want to wear a mask in some situations.
  • Health factors. If you’re sick or caring for someone who’s sick, you should wear a mask. And, if you or someone you’re in close contact with has a weakened immune system or is at risk of severe disease, it’s safest to wear a mask when the risk of transmission is medium or high.
  • Local requirements. Some places like clinics and hospitals may require that everyone wears masks.
  • Your personal preference. It’s totally fine if you want to continue to wear a mask even if you don’t need to.

3. Get tested if you’re exposed to COVID-19

If you’ve been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested for COVID-19 at least five full days after your exposure, even if you’re not showing symptoms. (If you test too early, you can be more likely to get an inaccurate result.) You’ll also need to wear a mask in public indoor spaces for 10 full days after exposure.

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.

Even though there are breakthrough cases of COVID-19, getting the vaccine – and COVID-19 booster shots – is still the best thing to do to protect yourself and others. Following updated masking recommendations should help, too.