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Can I catch COVID after the vaccine?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

The short answer is yes you can, and if you do it’s called a ‘vaccine breakthrough infection’. However, you have much less chance of catching COVID-19 if you’re fully vaccinated and have had your booster, and you’re also much less likely to get seriously unwell or require hospital treatment, which is a very important reason to have the vaccine. In addition, if you do get COVID-19 after having had the vaccine in the past, the chance of you passing it on to others is much lower, making you less contagious.

What is a vaccine breakthrough infection?

If it’s more than 14 days since your second vaccination and you get infected with COVID-19, this is termed a vaccine breakthrough infection. However, if it’s within the 14 days since your vaccination, it’s likely you contracted the virus either before or around your vaccination.

No vaccine claims to offer 100% protection against a virus or bacteria, but you reduce the chances of a breakthrough infection, and so protect yourself, your loved ones and those in your community.

How do I reduce my risk of a breakthrough infection?

As vaccines are not 100% effective, it is important to continue to uphold safe practices, such as avoiding unnecessary contact and keeping a safe distance when interacting with others, wearing a mask in public and busy spaces, and ensuring good hand hygiene.

Those who have a weakened immune system and older people are more likely to experience breakthrough infections, which is why it is especially important that they stay fully vaccinated, and we all take precautions to protect those around us.

The best protection against becoming unwell from COVID-19 is to have two vaccinations and then subsequent booster vaccinations according to your local area guidelines. It can take up to two weeks after each vaccine to experience its benefit, and you’re considered at optimal protection two weeks or more after the booster.

A vaccination will prime your immune system to a particular infection, so it’s better equipped to fight it when you meet the virus. This may mean that you do not experience any symptoms at all, but if you do, being vaccinated means symptoms are more likely to be mild or to last for a shorter period of time.

*Information correct on 26 January 2023

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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