Why Do Certain People Still Get COVID-19 When They’re Vaccinated?

Breakthrough cases hit the ‘vaccinated vulnerable’ particularly hard
vacinnated but sick with covid

Hospitals across the country are reporting overwhelming numbers of people diagnosed with COVID-19. The unvaccinated fill the vast majority of intensive care unit beds. Have you wondered who is filling the rest?

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That’s a group known as the “vaccinated vulnerable,” says internal medicine specialist Amy Teleron, MD, who treats people hospitalized for COVID-19.

“The vaccinated vulnerable are those patients that have received the vaccine but they have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to still getting an infection that may still be severe,” she explains.

Let’s learn more about this group.

Defining the ‘vaccinated vulnerable’

The vaccinated vulnerable includes a wide range of people, starting with older adults (particularly those age 65 and above). The list also includes:

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  • Cancer patients and others who are immunocompromised.
  • Those with dealing lung disease (such as COPD and asthma), heart disease and rheumatological conditions.
  • Organ transplant recipients, especially those receiving immunosuppressive therapy.
  • Anyone taking immunosuppressants or long-term steroids for treatment.

How do the ‘vulnerable’ get COVID-19 if they’ve been vaccinated?

A vaccination against COVID-19 offers protection against the virus, but it doesn’t mean you won’t get it. Breakthrough infections — infections in people who are vaccinated — do sometimes occur.

The good news? Overall, people who are vaccinated are less likely to be infected, notes Dr. Teleron. And if someone does experience a breakthrough infection, their illness is typically milder without the need for hospitalization or ICU care.

Vaccinations also help reduce the spread of the virus, which safeguards your family, friends, colleagues and community.

People with chronic medical conditions (such as those listed above) may not have as robust of an immune response to vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccine, however, helps protect them against severe disease and death.

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A COVID-19 call to action

Given that those who are vaccinated have a lower chance of getting COVID-19, the unvaccinated crowd poses a far greater risk to anyone who falls in the “vulnerable” category, says Dr. Teleron.

She encourages everyone to get vaccinated or — if you have gotten your vaccine — to sign up for a booster.

“We’re lucky that we have vaccines available to us, so please do it to protect yourself,” stresses Dr. Teleron. “But if you’re not convinced by that, please do it to protect those that you love – your parents, your grandparents, your children, those that have chronic medical conditions and those that cannot get vaccinated.” 

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