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‘Breakthrough’ Infections Do Not Mean COVID Vaccines Are Failing


Getting flu again postinoculation is more common than a return case after a COVID shot

By Emily Willingham on August 4, 2021


Endless news cycles and viral social media warn of “breakthrough infections” in people already vaccinated for COVID-19. These reports leave the mistaken impression that protections afforded by the vaccines are not working—and they can fuel reticence among the millions of people in the U.S. who have yet to get a shot. But such infections are not only known to occur after COVID vaccination. They frequently happen following inoculation against influenza, measles and many other diseases.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, is special in one way, though: more than any other pathogen, it has provided the public at large with lessons in immunology—and terms such as “breakthrough infections” and “herd immunity” have gained a broad familiarity. “It almost feels not just like a microscope but an electron microscope on every single thing that happens with the COVID vaccines,” says Kawsar Talaat, an associate professor in the department of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, she notes, and “although some are better than others, most of them have some breakthrough infections.”

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