Breakthrough COVID cases can still occur despite vaccination, lack of symptoms, UDOH explains

Coronavirus Updates

FILE – This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Some political leaders are hailing a potential breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19: simple pin-prick blood tests or nasal swabs that can determine within minutes if someone has, or previously had, the virus. But some scientists have challenged their accuracy. (NIAID-RML via AP)

(ABC4) – What do LeBron James and the author of this article have in common?

Practically nothing.

Whereas the NBA superstar and global icon is a celebrated and accomplished athlete with a trophy case full of hardware, this ABC4.com reporter’s greatest athletic achievement was holding the Centerville Jr. Jazz record for most consecutive disqualifications by fouling out of the game.

Considered one of the sport’s all-time greats, James will take home a salary of $41 million this season, just from his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers alone. This author will make significantly less.

James stands a towering 6-foot-9 with the speed and prowess of a panther. I, on the other hand, lie about my height (and at times, my weight) to try to get more attention on dating apps.

Still, we did share one thing in common this week. Despite being fully vaccinated and showing no symptoms of COVID-19, both the King and I tested positive for the virus.

I am writing this article in isolation away from my colleagues at ABC4, in my single bedroom apartment. James is also in quarantine and will be separated from his co-workers for a minimum of 10 days, just like me, but likely will be spending his time in much more lavish surroundings.

While it may be frustrating for both James and I being trapped in our own homes with no symptoms and a fully filled-out vaccination card, Utah Department of Health spokesperson Jenny Johnson says it’s a good thing we got our shots. Things could be a lot worse otherwise.

“There are more and more studies showing that individuals who are fully vaccinated and do become a breakthrough case and get Covid often have far less severe illness than those who are unvaccinated,” she explains.

Johnson states that breakthrough cases are found in any illness that is met with a vaccine for resistance. It’s also far more common for those folks who are already in a vulnerable population to still catch the sickness, including Covid. The important thing, she adds, is that while a vaccine can’t completely prevent infection of Covid, the research clearly shows that it can greatly cut down on the virus’ severity.

What can be concerning is that there may be far more breakthroughs among vaccinated, asymptomatic people than are reported. James’ case was likely caught since he has to undergo intense screening protocols as part of his obligations as an NBA player. I wouldn’t have known I had the virus either, were it not for the NBA. Last week, I was taking a friend who hadn’t yet been fully vaccinated to a Utah Jazz game. As part of the restrictions at Vivint Arena, my friend would have needed a negative test to get into the building. We went for a rapid test before the game and I got one as well – as a nice gesture – even though it wasn’t needed due to my vaccination status. The positive result that came back for me, and not my friend, was shocking. A confirmatory PRP saliva test as recommended by my doctor made it real, I was carrying the virus without any idea I was infected.

I easily could have gone on for days, weeks, or even months without ever knowing I had Covid, possibly putting those around me at risk of more harmful infection.

“We know that Covid can be asymptomatic, and people can be infectious, even though they’re not sick themselves, which is scary,” Johnson says. “That’s different than like the flu or other diseases where you’re infectious once you have symptoms for a few days. With Covid, you’re infectious when you don’t know you’re infectious.”

It is frustrating to be stuck in my apartment and not at work or at any of the other places I enjoy being at after hours. There’s nothing I can do about it. After my second positive test, the county department of health contacted me and issued a stay-at-home order, keeping me away from others until a specific date. I’m in a very rare group. Data observed on the UDOH’s coronavirus dashboard shows I’m in the 2.3% of fully-vaccinated Utahns to have a breakthrough case. As of the time of this writing, I feel completely normal.

Still, Johnson reminds me, and other Utahns, that vaccines are doing their job to prevent severe illness and death as well as ease the strain on the healthcare system.

“It’s certainly a testament to the fact that this is still a relatively new disease and we don’t know all the answers about Covid yet,” she points out. “It’s very transmissible and as we get different areas that may be more transmissible, it can spread faster, but it doesn’t always mean that it’s causing more severe illness. And we need to remind people, you know, we, we need to stop transmission, because we’re still seeing so much strain because of severe illness.”

Johnson recommends continued vaccination efforts as well as boosters for those who have already been vaccinated. Those who have been exposed to someone in a breakthrough case also are strongly suggested to receive a test.

We’re not out of the woods yet.

“We don’t really hear about herd immunity as much anymore and that’s probably appropriate to not focus on that,” Johnson states. “But vaccines provide protections for individuals and populations. We’re just not at that point yet where we have enough people in populations that are protected to see that added benefit in Utah, at least. The point is to prevent that severe illness, we got to stop people from being hospitalized and getting severely ill. And that’s what the vaccines are doing.”

In my case, I am not severely ill and I am grateful for that. And at least I can finally say I have something in common with LeBron James.

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