You may be positive that you’ve gotten the Covid-19 vaccine. But you can still test positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus after you’ve gotten the vaccine. Yes, after getting vaccinated.
Case in point. Recall what happened after the January 6 riot in Washington, DC, when supporters of then-U.S. President and now possible Mar-A-Lago resident Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building. This included many rioters not wearing face masks, although at least one wore a Viking hat, which incidentally does not protect against transmitting the Covid-19 coronavirus. Several U.S. House of Representatives members subsequently turned positive for positive for Covid-19. This included Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), and Brad Schneider (D-Illinios), who had already gotten one of two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), who had already received the full two doses. Here’s what Espaillat tweeted back on January 14:
Also, there was the case of the 45 year old emergency room nurse in San Diego who reportedly developed Covid-19 about a week after getting the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Marshall Shepherd first reported this for Forbes.
Before you hit the panic button, keep several things in mind. First of all, why the heck would you have a panic button? And if so, why would you hit it? A panic buttons wouldn’t do much except for cause noise and flashy lights to appear, prompting your dog to say, “dude, get a grip.” Secondly, all of this is not unexpected. This case doesn’t necessarily mean that the available Covid-19 vaccines do not work. In fact, there are five reasons why such cases are to be expected:
1. Covid-19 vaccine effectiveness is not 100%.
Few things in this world are 100%. Avocado toast may be very likely to provide happiness. But it’s not 100%. For example, a cinder block could be falling on your while you are ingesting your avocado toast. Similarly, no vaccine will provide absolute full protection. The reported efficacies of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 and Moderna vaccines in preventing Covid-19 symptoms in clinical trials are about 90% or greater. That’s pretty high. Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite. But again 90% is not 100%. That means even if you get both doses of either vaccine you will still have a chance of getting Covid-19 with symptoms if exposed to the virus. Plus, clinical trial settings aren’t always the same as real world settings. The effectiveness of the vaccines in the real world could end up being less than 90%.
2. Getting one dose of the two dose regimen gives you even less protection.
The regimens for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines consist of two doses. The first dose is the prime, which introduces your immune system to the spike protein. Your immune system may be some attention to it and build up some defense so that you could have about 50% protection against getting Covid-19 symptoms. But one dose can be like accidentally standing up once while on a Zoom meeting and not wearing pants. That may prompt you to be more careful next time. But a one time accident may not be enough to get you to be careful enough. The second dose of the vaccine is the booster dose. It re-introduces the spike protein to your immune system and reminds your immune system about it. This can be akin to standing up yet again without pants on a Zoom call. That second time may convince you to take further preventive action like wearing pants from now on, chaining yourself to your chair so that you can’t stand up, or never taking Zoom calls again. The two doses of the vaccines, the prime plus the booster, are necessary to achieve the higher, potentially 90% efficacy.
3. The vaccine takes time to take effect.
A vaccine can offer you protection. But wait for it, wait for it. It takes time for the vaccine to take effect. A vaccine is not like a pair of Spanx. It doesn’t start working immediately. It takes time for the mRNA in the vaccine to be engulfed by your body’s immune cells, your cells to start manufacturing the Covid-19 coronavirus spike proteins using the mRNA blueprint, your immune system to see the spike proteins and say “WTH is this,” your immune system to generate an immune response, and that immune response to be fully in place. This could take 10 to 14 days or maybe even longer. Until that occurs, you ain’t really protected.
4. You can become infected before getting vaccinated and protected.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) has an incubation period that ranges from two to fourteen days, with an average of five to six days. That means there’s at least a couple Scaramuccis or more around when you are vaccinated for you to get infected. The virus can slip in your body sometime within two weeks before you get vaccinated up to the two weeks after you get vaccinated before the onset of the vaccine’s protection. That comes out to possibly a four week window or nearly three Scaramuccis.
5. It’s not clear yet whether the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 or Moderna vaccine will prevent you from getting infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus.
As I covered previously for Forbes, so far clinical trials have not yet determined how well either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine can actually prevent infection with the virus. Both seem to reduce the risk of developing Covid-19 symptoms. However, it’s not clear what percentage of vaccinated people who get exposed to the virus may end up being infected yet exhibit fewer or less severe symptoms. As they say on TV and when you play the bagpipes, stay tuned. In the meantime, assume that even after you are fully vaccinated, you may still get infected with the SARS-CoV2 and spread it to others.
There you have it. Five reasons that you may test positive for Covid-19 after getting vaccinated, and five reasons why you should maintain other protections against the virus such as social distancing and mask wearing even after getting vaccinated. Additionally, it’s not clear yet how long the vaccine’s protection will last.
Of course, the possibility that you may test positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus after you get vaccinated doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get either Covid-19 vaccine. That would be like saying you shouldn’t wear any clothes simply because what you are wearing may not be warm enough. Getting vaccinated may help add a strong layer of protection against Covid-19 and can still be a very positive thing.