Take it from me, the chances of a fully vaccinated person becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus are extremely low – but not zero.
Regular Ambush readers may remember that I detailed my vaccination experience here, in this very column. I blasted at the anti-vax movement, dismissing its supporters with science and touting the benefits of vaccination. I strongly encouraged, almost demanded anyone still on the fence about being vaccinated to hop aboard the yay-train.
(Three months later…)
Like millions of others, I had incorporated the fight against COVID into my daily routine, doing my part and biding my time until we can put 2020 and this pandemic behind us. After receiving the vaccine, I breathed a private sigh of relief, thankful to have dodged the viral bullet. – twice.
I was home in New Orleans for Mardi Gras 2020 during that Super-Spreader Fat Tuesday, and I live in New York City, the epicenter of this deadly virus. Even though I was in proximity to the virus, I avoided becoming one of its statistics. Or so I thought.
Despite being a fully vaccinated person who diligently practices social distancing guidelines, dutifully wears an approved mask while in public spaces, washes his hands for a full 20 seconds, slathers on Purell in passing, it wasn’t enough.
Somehow, somewhere, I was in contact with an infected person and tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, with symptoms strong enough to warrant two trips to the Emergency Room.
I’ve been asked if I still feel as strongly about the pro-vax campaign and the nation’s goal of herd-immunity after being thrown off my vaccination high-horse. Absolutely. I’ll tell you why.
But first, “What the hell happened?”
Several weeks ago, I was feeling more run-down than usual. I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep. Overnight, a sinus infection developed, bringing with it a slight cough. “Great,” I thought. Summer just started, and I’ve already caught one of those summer colds I endure annually. It made sense; the weather in New York fluctuated wildly, with temperatures ranging from the high seventies during the day to forty degrees at night.
“That’s how people get sick,” my grandmother used to say.
A day or two into the sinus infection, my slight cough turned more severe, as did a sore throat. It was the strangest sensation. One minute I was eating and drinking fine, and the next, it was almost too painful to swallow my saliva. I jumped into sick mode; I grabbed the neti pot, drank tea with lemon, gargled with warm salt water, and chewed on honey-soaked lemons. I jumped from remedy to remedy and realized that I couldn’t taste or smell any of them.
I was vaccinated months ago, so the possibility that I had COVID-19 didn’t even cross my mind. I lost my appetite. The thought of food turned my stomach, and I knew I was sick. I never had a fever, but my energy dropped to a debilitating level. I was too weak to do anything. I would spontaneously burst into coughing fits which left my ribs sore, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch my breath. In a matter of hours, it became an exhaustive effort to get from the bed to the bathroom.
And that was unfortunate because soon after, explosive diarrhea set in. I’d become incontinent and shat my bed and underwear three times within 6 hours. Everyone has probably shatted a time or two in their lifetime, but three times? In six hours? No fucking way. I rummaged through my bathroom cabinet to find some adult diapers leftover from an intestinal parasite situation several years ago.
That’s what I thought I was dealing with, another parasite infection. Having an intestinal parasite is a nightmare – and the fastest way that I know to lose fifteen pounds. I was not about to relive that ordeal and thought it best to get to an emergency room ASAP. Within an hour, I was rocking my granny panties and lying on a gurney at St Luke’s Hospital in an isolation room.
Getting myself to the ER sapped all the energy I had. I knew I was dehydrated, but I didn’t care; all I wanted to do was sleep, which annoyed the intake nurse who repeated the same questions until I answered. But it wasn’t frustration that caused this nurse to back up, step by step, towards the door as I rattled off the prior week’s ailments, signs, and symptoms. I remember thinking, “Does she know something I don’t?”
What followed was a battery of blood tests, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. A medical aide zipped through to set up an IV. “Now we just sit and wait,” he said as he hung the fluid bag on those curly-cue tipped poles made for just this purpose.
Unsure of what time it was, or what day it was, I was jarred awake, first by the door which slams itself shut due to an over-adjusted mechanical arm, then by the tacky, awful-for-your-complexion, fluorescent lighting of the isolation room.
“Mr. Rockford,” the doctor said. He continued, “The good news is that you don’t have a parasite. The bad news is that you do have COVID-19.”
Yep. That should teach me not to count my chickens. I follow the protocols, adhere to the guidelines, and still, good ol’ ‘Rona bites me on the ass. I had a “breakthrough” infection
“Wha…?” I half-asked.
Regarding COVID-19, a breakthrough infection is the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA or antigen in a respiratory specimen collected from a person 14 days after they have completed all recommended doses of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, of the more than 130 million people in the United States who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there have been reports of at least 10,262 breakthrough infections.
Even though the FDA-approved vaccines are highly effective, breakthrough cases aren’t a surprise; they are expected – especially before the population immunity reaches the herd level.
Before you get your vaccinated panties in a twist or start self-diagnosing based on something you read on WebMD, a better idea might be to take a breath and gain perspective. Yes, breakthrough infections do happen, but they are rare, occurring in only 0.02 percent of the fully vaccinated population. Of those infected, the majority were older women and high-risk people such as those in nursing homes.
Since it is possible to catch COVID-19, despite the current vaccines, if I could go back in time, would I still choose to get vaccinated? Absolutely! The science has been precise and well-publicized that vaccination is not immunity. It is definitely possible to become infected with the COVID-19 virus, even though you are fully vaccinated. The approved vaccines won’t PREVENT you from contracting the virus, but they will lessen the virus’ side effects and keep you alive. Any day above ground is better than one that isn’t.
I endured three extremely uncomfortable days that I would like never to repeat. But it’s my opinion, based on an overwhelming consensus of scientific data and the professional views of the medical staff standing in front of me, that my situation would have been far worse if I were not vaccinated.
I wanted to share my experience with you, not as an alarm but rather as a reminder to stay vigilant in the battle against this pandemic. Cities across the country are beginning to open up. New York is finally starting to crackle with an optimistic and welcomed energy lacking these last 16 months, but this pandemic is not over.
In the United States, 350 people a day are still dying due to a COVID-related illness, adding to the estimated 600,000 deaths already caused by this pandemic. That is unacceptable.
The COVID-19 crisis is still a cause for worry; worry over those who haven’t been vaccinated and those refusing to do so.
I’m especially concerned about the unvaccinated, asymptomatic carriers. These individuals are potentially walking super-spreaders. Without regular testing, it’s almost impossible to identify who they are, which is truly scary. This pandemic is a global concern. It’s too easy to stay in our bubbles, thinking only of ourselves. Vaccination can be the difference between life and death. Don’t learn that lesson the hard way.
If you and your family have managed to remain healthy and virus-free without receiving a vaccine, that’s amazing. But there is no guarantee your luck will hold out. Take it from me, don’t count your chickens.
Thank you for reading. I’m always interested in hearing the varied opinions of Ambush readers. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line and share yours. Until next time