Can I Get COVID-19 After Getting Vaccinated?

Dr. Paul Offit explains the immunologic protection afforded by COVID-19 infection and how vaccination can enhance that protection.


Can I get COVID-19 after getting vaccinated?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center. Probably the most common question I get asked is, if you've been vaccinated, can you still get COVID-19? Can you still get the disease? And the answer is, yes.

When the virus first came into this country back in January of 2020, what everybody was looking at was if people got infected severely, moderate to severe infection, could they when they were re-exposed get severely infected again? And the answer was, no. I mean, natural infection appeared to protect against at least moderate to severe disease associated with re-exposure, but it didn't really protect against mild disease or asymptomatic infection, which is true of all of these kinds of viruses.

I mean, SARS-CoV-2 is a so-called mucosal virus, meaning it affects the lining of the back of the respiratory tract, the lungs, but it really doesn't spread into the bloodstream. It's a mucosal infection. And those kinds of infections will protect against moderate disease, they'll protect against severe disease, but they don't necessarily protect against asymptomatic infection or moderately symptomatic infections, but that's OK.

Really, what you want is you want either natural infection or immunization with this kind of a vaccine, this kind of infection, to protect you against the more severe forms of the disease, the kind that causes you to go to the doctor, the kind that causes you to go to the hospital or go to the intensive care unit. And that's what this does.

So, I think we set way too high of a bar for this vaccine when we say, can I be protected against all forms of illness, including mild illness? The answer is, no. It's not at all surprising that you would get a mild infection, especially with omicron where the natural infection or immunization with previous strain doesn’t offer as good a protection against mild disease. You should see a lot of mild disease in people who’ve already been naturally infected or in people who've already been vaccinated.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Feb 17, 2022