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Breakthrough Cases: Why You Should Still Wear Your Mask Even With a Vaccine

COVID feels like it’s been here for a long, long time despite it only being a year and a half since it became an actual issue that people began paying attention to. I know I, personally, am so sick of it that it almost hurts to think about. Face masks cause fairly severe breakout; it’s irritating to have to be on guard whenever anyone coughs and I’m sick to death of hearing people laugh and poke fun whenever they see that I’m still opting to wear my mask despite being vaccinated.

However, there is an important piece of information to take into consideration when it comes to masking up. Breakthrough cases are something that every vaccinated person should mull over before they decide to fully forego their masks in crowded public spaces.

To clarify, breakthrough cases are COVID-19 cases that occur despite being vaccinated against the virus.

These cases are far less common than unvaccinated people getting the virus and tend to be far less severe due to the vaccine acting as a protectant, but they’re still a possibility.

Breakthrough cases, as defined by the CDC, are cases of COVID-19 that are found in people that have had all their recommended vaccinations for 14 days or longer. The dates change a bit depending on which vaccine you’ve received, as the J&J vaccine has a different time scale than the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines do.

Breakthrough infections are expected considering that no vaccine offers infallible 100% protection. However, infections in people who have received the maximum doses of their vaccine tend to be far less severe than if they hadn’t received one at all. People with vaccines are 25% less likely to experience hospitalization and death due to their symptoms. The benefit of the vaccine is a no-brainer, but knowing that there’s still the possibility of infection despite receiving one is important.

The importance of masks in this stage of the pandemic still cannot be understated. I know that masks aren’t fun, and seriously, mask breakout is literally the worst, but just because you have your vaccine, you are not entirely guaranteed to avoid an infection. I do know some people who legitimately stopped caring at all once they received their second vaccine, and it’s definitely concerning knowing that they could potentially contract it just because they didn’t want to wear their mask to the nail salon.

According to the CDC website, as well, people who are vaccinated can still also transmit the virus to others if they do catch it. This means that even if you’re the only one in your otherwise conservative family with the vaccine, that you can still catch it from somewhere else and spread it to your unvaccinated family members if you decide to opt out of your mask. It’s a scary thought, it really is, and it even seems a bit too unfortunate to be true. It is, though, and knowing about it is helpful to reducing potential disease.

I want nothing more than for this whole fiasco of a pandemic to be over, but masking up is still important. It might seem tempting to go to a dine-in restaurant that doesn’t require masks, and it might seem fun to go to a concert that only requires proof of vaccination (looking at you Lollapalooza), but infections can still happen and definitely will still suck even with the vaccine.

Again, though, this isn’t to say that the vaccine is useless. The CDC states that it’s incredibly effective at reducing the severity of symptoms, reducing the likelihood of an ICU visit and reducing the likelihood of contracting it in the first place. This is just a reminder that it’s not a perfect solution and that this pandemic will require more than just half the population getting a vaccine to end it.

Mikaela is a current student of Virginia Commonwealth University.
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