There’s a lot of talk about vaccines lately. With countries finally rolling out the ones that will hopefully put an end to this long pandemic, that should come as no surprise. There are also a lot of questions – particularly about their safety and efficacy. We trust that experts know what they’re doing, so with that in mind we want to address one particular question to the best of our ability: Since many of the new vaccines need to be administered in doses, what should you do if you get Covid after your first Vaccine dose?
Many of the vaccines that are now being rolled out, including those by Pfizer and Moderna, require two separate doses, given a few weeks apart. In that time, recipients of the vaccine are not fully protected, and it’s possible they could still catch Covid-19. According to Stanford infectious disease doctor Aruna Subramanian, MD, if you start showing symptoms of Covid after your first vaccine dose, it’s likely for one of two reasons. “You might have contracted the virus soon after your vaccination or just before, and not shown symptoms until after,” she told Popsugar. In addition, it takes about two weeks for a significant immune response to kick in once the vaccine has been administered.
The fact that the body takes time to build that immune response after the shot is a fact that is often ignored when the vaccine is being discussed by laypeople such as ourselves. It’s also important not to miss out on that second dose. As Dr. Francis Collins writes for the National Institutes of Health, “the first dose of these mRNA vaccines trains the immune system to recognise and attack the spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The second dose, administered a few weeks later, boosts antibody levels to afford even better protection”.
“You get a good amount of protection two weeks after your first dose, and then you get complete protection a few weeks after the second dose,” Dr. Subramanian explains further. “It’s a process and so people have to be patient through that.”It’s therefore important not to let your guard down after the first shot, and start acting like you’re immune or like the pandemic has ended for you.
But what should you do if you do get Covid after the first vaccine dose?
If you do start to feel sick after your first dose, you should get tested the same way you would have done before. According to Dr. Subramanian, an accurate test result is extremely important, as some vaccine side-effects may mimic those of Covid-19. These could include things like a fever or fatigue. There could also be other side-effects, such as swollen lymph nodes, which have not been typically associated with Covid-19.
Furthermore, according to Dr Collins, “because their immune systems were already in high gear, people who were previously infected tended to have more symptoms following their first shot, such as pain and swelling at the injection site. They also were more likely to report other less common symptoms, including fatigue, fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and joint pain”. Whatever your symptoms, if you’re concerned it’s better to get tested in any case. Basically, behave as if you haven’t yet been vaccinated.
If your test results are positive, you’ll still be able to transmit the virus to those around you, so isolating yourself from others will be just as important as it always has been.
The fact is that these vaccines are not unique. Most vaccines require booster doses in order to be fully effective. Take the MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – vaccine for example. The MMR vaccine is given to babies around the world to prevent this collection of childhood infections that used to claim the lives of millions (but no longer do, because of the vaccines). According to the BBC, “around 40% of people who have received just one dose are not protected from all three viruses, compared to 4% of those who have had their second”.
It’s the second, booster shot that really solidifies our protection against pathogen, and that’s why it’s so important not to get too lax after the first.
As we approach the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we need to keep being patient, and keep in mind that things won’t change overnight. So, even after your first dose of the vaccine (whenever that is) continue to think about the safety and health of those around you, as well as your own, and keep wearing those masks and washing your hands until we know more about how long immunity lasts after that crucial second dose.