Do I need a booster if I had a breakthrough case of COVID-19?

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Have you gotten COVID-19 even though you’re fully vaccinated? Health experts are calling instances like yours a ‘breakthrough case.’ Though the vaccine does overwhelmingly decrease your chances of getting the virus, getting a serious case of it and dying, vaccines are not 100% effective.

Still, people who are vaccinated are significantly less likely to get COVID-19 than someone who is not. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found vaccines are significantly more effective in protecting against serious cases of the virus than immunity built by getting sick alone.

We had a few questions about immunity, breakthrough cases and booster shots. We took them to Dr. Mark Casanova, a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Will a vaccine or immunity created by illness give me more protection against COVID-19?

This week the CDC released a report that showed someone who is unvaccinated and has gotten COVID-19 recently is still five times more likely to end up hospitalized with another round of COVID-19 than someone who is fully vaccinated and has never had the virus before.

“This report answers to a large degree what many of us have been feeling and seeing and thinking intuitively about what we see unfold clinically in hospitals,” Casanova said.

Not only are you more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID-19, but a new report from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows unvaccinated people in Texas were 20x more likely to die from COVID-19 in September 2021.

The CDC and Casanova agree the best protection against the virus is the vaccine, not immunity created by infection.

If I beat it once, won’t I beat it again?

“I’m not one much to play Russian Roulette, and I sure as he** probably wouldn’t play Russian Roulette twice,” Casanova said.

Casanova says there are several reasons not to have that mindset. First, the timing of your infection matters. If you had COVID-19 in the early part of 2021, you probably had a different strain of the virus than what’s going around now.

“We did see a great many number of individuals infected with the original strain only to turn around and acquire delta and the second go around have much more serious infections,” Casanova said.

Casanova also says many people assume they had COVID-19 previously but didn’t actually go get a test. The illness someone may have thought was COVID-19 could have been a serious cold or allergies in which case they would have no immunity to the virus.

Do I have to wait to get a booster if I test positive for COVID-19?

Unlike previously in the pandemic, which health experts were asking people to wait to get their vaccine if they had recently tested positive for COVID-19, that doesn’t apply to boosters.

Casanova says if you experience a breakthrough case, go get that booster shot as soon as your symptoms from being sick are gone.

“Don’t forget your flu shot while we’re at it,” Casanova said.

How common are breakthrough cases here in Central Texas?

Austin Public Health presented breakthrough case numbers to Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members Tuesday.

APH reported more than 9,000 people in Travis County have tested positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated against the virus since the beginning of the year. Of those people, only 94 required hospital care and 46 died. The people who died overwhelmingly had underlying medical conditions, health leaders reported.

There are more than 800,000 people in Travis County who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only roughly 7% of the people who have died from the virus since the beginning of the year were people experiencing breakthrough cases.

“Our vaccines that we have are effective at protecting us from severe COVID and disease and from death,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, said.

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