You Might Still Get Covid-19 After Your First Vaccine Dose — Here’s Why

Katherine Speller
·3 min read

As experts have breathlessly said throughout the pandemic, the vaccine will not be an immediate “silver bullet” to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic. While it’s encouraged that people eligible for the vaccine get it when it’s available to them (and to talk with their healthcare provider if they aren’t sure), getting the shot doesn’t mean the rest of us can be lax on the other coronavirus spread-preventing practices

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On Tuesday an ABC affiliate in San Diego reported that an emergency room nurse tested positive six days after receiving the Pfizer vaccine.  Per the outlet, the 45-year-old was vaccinated with the first dose on December 18, reporting only arm soreness as a side effect, and less than a week later experienced chills, muscle pain and fatigue that urged him to go get tested. 

While this may be confusing to people who haven’t been reading up on the vaccine, experts say that this situation isn’t impossible based on data from clinical trials, as people don’t immediately develop immunity following their first dose of the two-part vaccine.  

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Per Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents, for the Pfizer vaccine it can take between 10 and 14 days, if not more, for patients to experience some of the protections of the dose — greatly reducing the risk of being severely ill from COVID-19 — and getting to the 95 percent efficacy rate following the second dose. So that time period between doses, and shortly following the first one, are times where individuals will still want to be cautious. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, despite different vaccines being developed, the goal of each is to “teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity.”

“It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination,” per the agency. “That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection…If your body develops an immune response, which is the goal of vaccination, there is a possibility you may test positive on some antibody tests. Antibody tests indicate you had a previous infection and that you may have some level of protection against the virus. Experts are currently looking at how COVID-19 vaccination may affect antibody testing results.”

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