🙋 Asking for a friend… No wait, actually, I’m asking for me. After almost two years of precautions and a total of 10 vaccine shots, this Nerdy Girl’s family of four came down with COVID over the winter holidays, most likely the omicron variant. Now that we’re all fully recovered (thank you, vaccines!), it’s time for a new risk assessment. Are we protected now? Can we go back to normal?
➡️ TL;DR: Yes and no.
Yes, probably pretty protected. But no, maybe *not all the way* back to pre-pandemic normal. We expect that an omicron infection plus vaccination will protect against getting COVID in the near future, but this “hybrid immunity” is not a force field (as virologist Shane Crotty put it). Immunity varies between people and will likely wane in the coming months. So you can’t be really sure how protected you are against another infection. Many places are still in the midst of a massive wave of new cases, and new concerning variants may crop up. For the moment though, you’re as protected as you can be (especially from severe disease), so that breath of relief is justified. But remember that vulnerable community members may not be feeling relieved. So we can help others by continuing to mask up for now until we’re in a safer place as a society.
Now for the long version. If you’ve been vaccinated and experienced a break-through infection, you now have what’s called “hybrid immunity.” We don’t yet have data about immunity after omicron breakthroughs, but we have good science from prior variants that shows that hybrid immunity is more protective than vaccination or infection alone. It’s not a silver bullet though. Some people with hybrid immunity do still become infected and are able to transmit the virus to others. And a very few still get very sick or die.
There are a lot of reasons to maintain some precautions. New COVID cases are at an all-time high in many places in the United States and worldwide, so being exposed to the virus right now is pretty darn likely. The strength and duration of immunity will vary from person-to-person, so you can’t know your level of protection exactly. And new variants that can evade existing immunity (Ugh! Yes, really. Sorry!) may also pop up at any time. If those variants can evade the immunity brought on by vaccines and infections, you can be sure they will spread quickly. Since there’s still a chance of becoming infected, even after a breakthrough, vulnerable members of your community will appreciate your continued precautions right now. That mask is both a small safety measure for you and an act of solidarity. It’s been a long haul, but sticking together is our best way through it.
So if you’ve made it through a breakthrough infection, it’s okay to breathe a little sigh of relief. If there’s something really important that felt a little too risky before, this is a reasonable time to do it. And that nagging anxiety of everyday life can just take a seat! I don’t feel as nervous sending my kids to school, for example, despite regular exposure notifications from the principal. But we still owe it to ourselves and each other to avoid the virus where we can. In my family, we still wear our KN95 masks to public places, and we haven’t hopped on a plane yet. But maybe we will when the Omicron wave has passed!
Stay Safe, Stay Sane
~Nerdy Girl Jessica
Dear Pandemic link:
“Will an infection after vaccination give me an immune boost?”
“I Had Breakthrough Covid. Can I Start Living Like It’s 2019? “
“Omicron surge raises Covid reinfection concern”
“So You’re Triple-Vaxxed and Still Got COVID. Now What?” (from Slate, with quotes from Nerdy Girl Jenn Dowd)
“Hybrid immunity improves B cells and antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 variants”
“Hybrid immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in kidney transplant recipients and hemodialysis patients”