Do seatbelts in a car provide you 100 percent protection from danger or from an accident? Probably not.
But you still wear them, right? Why?
That's because wearing a seatbelt reduces the extent or the severity of the injury.
You can use the same analogy with the COVID-19 vaccines.
Think of the vaccines as seatbelts. They give you some protection and advantage in the event of an infection, but that does not mean that you're completely shielded.
We like to believe otherwise, but vaccines aren't all or nothing. They're not magic. They just give us an edge.
Breakthrough infections do happen.
These are the infections that people get post vaccination because the virus breaks though the protective barrier of the COVID-19 vaccine.
It also does not mean the vaccines are widely failing.
But is getting COVID-19 when you're vaccinated the same as getting COVID-19 when you haven't had the jab?
Seatbelt Injuries Are Possible, But...
"You have the same infection, but you just have it milder," top Virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang, says.
There are breakthrough infections that land people in hospitals and those who die of that, but the clinical picture is largely not distinguishable from a natural infection, Dr Kang adds.
The only differences are in the proportions – much fewer people are affected after vaccination for both infection as well as for symptomatology.Dr Gagandeep Kang, Virologist
Dr Swapneil Parikh, Author and Internal Medicine Specialist, says, "the situation in people who have been vaccinated against Covid, being exposed to infection or even getting infected is very different from an individual who's immunologically naïve."
If a vaccinated person is exposed to SARS-CoV2, he/she may not even get infected.
"In the event that they do get infected, it's likely to be a much milder infection. It may be asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic," Dr Parikh says.
So, yes. The seatbelt injuries are possible, but in most cases, you may have minimal side effects.
"It’s not impossible to have severe disease after vaccination. It's just very uncommon," he adds.
What this means is that the COVID-19 vaccines are powerful, but not extraordinarily powerful against the virus that you're completely protected.
The good news is that they have very high efficacy against severe disease and hospitalisation.
"The risk can be reduced by anywhere from 95 to 99 percent," Dr Parikh says.
However, the protection might be a little less robust in individuals who are immunocompromised, or very elderly individuals, he adds.
COVID-19: It Could Look More Like a Common Cold
While it isn’t a hard and fast rule, but what Dr Parikh has noticed is that individuals who do have breakthrough infections tend to have more upper respiratory tract infections – similar to a common cold or a flu.
They also don't tend to get pneumonia, or severe changes in the lungs, he adds.
Vaccinations will largely keep you out of the hospitals, but that does not guarantee you a quick run to the pharmacy in the case of breakthrough infections.
"So, post vaccination, COVID-19 for most individuals is converted from what was a potentially fatal condition to a somewhat of a bad flu."
Does Wearing Seatbelt Mean You Won't Injure Others?
But the pandemic and the virus continue to evolve and evade us.
You might have buckled up your seatbelt and behave well on the road. That does guarantee you don't encounter a rash driver on the road. You can risk injuring others even if your seatbelt and other safety gears work exceptionally well.
The Delta variant is that rash driver.
Due to Delta, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently said that fully vaccinated people who get a Covid-19 breakthrough infection can transmit the virus.
The CDC said that the highly infectious strain produced similar amounts of virus in vaccinated and unvaccinated people if they got infected.
But there may be a silver lining to it. The infection is cleared faster, Dr Parikh says.
"Let's say that an unvaccinated individual stays infectious for 7 to 10 days. Fully vaccinated individual may only stay infectious for 3 to 7 days," he says.
However, Dr Kang says it's difficult to say whether those with breakthrough infections shed the virus as long as those unvaccinated without sequential samples.
"My expectation would be that if infections are fewer and milder, you may reach the same levels of shedding but you might shed for as long or be infectious for as long as unvaccinated people...So there's a lot to learn."
The bottom-line is that breakthrough infection doesn't mean breakthrough disease.
It means milder infections, shorter duration of infections, less severe lung involvement, and a significant decrease in hospitalisation and death, Dr Parikh says.
You got your seatbelt on, but don't forget to take other precautions, too. Drive safe!
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