Vaccinated people can carry quite a lot of virusWhen vaccinated people do get infected with SARS-CoV-2, we tend to carry just as much virus as unvaccinated people, according to a new study. Not a cause for panic, but an important point to watch.
Vaccines have reliably protected countless millions of us from severe cases of COVID-19. That was their intended purpose, and, as you've heard, mission accomplished. Vaccinated people can still get infected, but the disease they might experience is far more likely to be mild.
Meanwhile the question of transmission after vaccination has lingered. How often does it happen? What precautions are worth taking? As a vaccinated person nearing my six-month mark still not wanting to inadvertently infect anyone, I've been conscious of just how often and how readily I might be spreading SARS-CoV-2 until more is known.
And as winter approaches and indoor gatherings become more common and precautions fade with case counts, it would be good to know more precisely just how possible it is that I may be infecting and unvaccinated person, even indirectly, and causing harm. Given that tens of millions of adults are willfully unvaccinated, and of course children can't yet be, the question of transmission is key to what the coming months look like.
We've long known that it's theoretically possible for vaccinated people to get infected and spread the virus, but no one has had a clear picture of how often it happens. Evidence is coming in all the time, and the emerging picture isn't as great as I'd hoped. Today a new pre-publication study caught my eye, and it found that vaccinated people and unvaccinated people who got COVID-19 carried roughly the same amount of virus. The authors report:
Viral load isn't a perfect indicator of capacity to spread the virus, but it's the best we have. This study confirms prior reports about high viral loads in vaccinated people.
While it's of course very good that we're protected from severe illness, that also raises the possibility that our protection may mean a higher likelihood that we spread the virus to unvaccinated people.
Hence, we really need rapid testing. We need to know quickly and accurately and painlessly who's got the virus.
The reassuring note from the study is evidence that although we vaccinated people may develop high viral loads, these don't seem to hang around as long as if we were unvaccinated. As the authors mention, "vaccinated individuals may remain infectious for shorter periods of time." Exactly what that means would be great to know. If the infectious period is shortened by 80 percent, that's a different world than 20 percent.
Anyway, this doesn't clearly change anything at a practical level, to my eye, but I wanted to share, as the authors' takeaway is this: "The data gathered in this study during the surge of the Delta variant strongly support the notion that neither vaccine status nor the presence or absence of symptoms should influence the recommendation and implementation of good public health practices, including mask wearing, testing, social distancing, and other measures designed to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2."
I'll continue to watch this and send updates in the weekly email as we know more. Please subscribe to The Body to keep up. It's free.
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