Why breakthrough COVID-19 cases don't mean vaccines are failing

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In the past few weeks, more fully vaccinated Americans have been getting infected with COVID-19, but that doesn't mean COVID-19 vaccines don't work. The shots provide significant protection from serious illness and make it more difficult for infected people to transmit the coronavirus, according to an Aug. 4 Scientific American report.

Infections that occur in vaccinated people, often referred to as "breakthrough" infections, also occur in people who have gotten vaccinated against influenza, measles and many other diseases. During some years, the flu shot efficacy rate for protecting recipients against infection hovers around 50 percent, and many people who received the shot end up with mild cases of the flu.

While COVID-19 vaccines don't offer 100 percent protection against becoming infected with the coronavirus, they do make it significantly less likely for those who experience an infection to end up in the hospital. In mid-July, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said more than 97 percent of Americans who are being hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Vaccinated people who are infected with the coronavirus also tend to be less likely to transmit it, as the coronavirus' viral load is lower in vaccinated people, according to the report.

 

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