Can People Spread COVID-19 Even After Getting the Vaccine? Experts Respond

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Relief and hope are felt across the country as the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine is being administered. With the relief of the vaccine felt, a sense of uncertainty still fills the air. Americans wonder if masks are necessary now and question the importance of social distancing with the vaccine now out. Health experts continue to warn the U.S. to continue practicing all CDC recommendations and following all government mandates. This means that for now, it’s important to keep wearing masks, socially distancing, and taking other precautionary measures even if you have been vaccinated.

Why ‘no normal’?

The next months are going to be crucial to fighting the virus and understanding its effectiveness. It will be particularly important to understand whether COVID-19 vaccines will prevent asymptomatic infections. This is precisely why health experts say Americans MUST remain social distancing (especially the elderly/high-risk), washing hands, not eating out, etc. The danger of contracting COVID-19 and being asymptomatic is in the mere fact that you do not know that you are carrying a deadly virus and spread the disease to others, thus continuing the cycle. 

“It would not be so far-fetched to have a vaccine that protects you from developing the worst COVID disease, but you could be infected and you could be spreading it [without] getting really sick,” says Jeffrey Bethony, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences who works on vaccines for parasitic diseases and HIV. “There is hope that they prevent transmission, but we simply don’t know enough about them yet.”

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Can you spread COVID-19 after vaccination?

The short answer is that health experts ‘don’t know enough yet’. Many vaccines—including those for hepatitis A and B, measles, chickenpox, and human papillomavirus—do prevent people both from becoming ill and from passing the pathogen to others. “Generally, we believe that if you have a vaccine that prevents disease, you’re likely preventing infections as well, but you can’t assume that that’s 100 percent [the case],” said Susanna Naggie, an associate professor of medicine in the Duke University School of Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases.

“Such a high rate of asymptomatic spread is “just not all that common in other infections. With [the] flu there is [an] asymptomatic disease, but not at the level we see with SARS-CoV-2 [coronavirus],” added Naggie. This again makes it particularly important to understand whether COVID-19 vaccines will prevent asymptomatic infections.

Some pathogens can infect and reproduce in vaccinated people for short periods of time without making them sick, including the bacteria that cause meningitis and pertussis, or whooping cough. This is also a problem for vaccines under development for parasitic illnesses such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and hookworm infection.

“The vaccine protects people against the most serious clinical manifestations of the disease but it doesn’t entirely stop infection,” Jeffrey Bethony added. “You still might have a person who is mildly infected, and they’re still able to spread the disease.”

Are you continuing COVID-19 precautions?

Are you wearing a mask and social distancing? Are you skeptical about the new vaccines? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook.

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