Vaccine breakthrough: Tested positive – despite vaccination

The particularly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is causing increased breakthrough infections. This means that people can become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and also contract COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. You can read here how breakthrough infections are to be assessed.

Despite breakthrough infections, the corona vaccination continues to be highly effective in many people – for people who have not yet been vaccinated, however, vaccination breakthroughs could pose a risk.

Positive despite vaccination: what is a vaccine breakthrough?

According to the Robert Koch Institute, the vaccine breakthrough has the following characteristics:

  • The person is fully vaccinated.
  • The person is suffering from symptoms.
  • A PCR test or pathogen isolation were positive.

The complete vaccination with the vaccines from Moderna, BioNTech/Pfizer or AstraZeneca as well as Johnson & Johnson should be at least two weeks ago.

According to the RKI, 13,360 symptomatic vaccination breakthroughs have been registered so far. At that time, 48 million people in Germany were fully vaccinated (as of August 17).

Overall, however, it is assumed that the number of unreported cases of corona infections is higher despite vaccination, since vaccinated people with symptoms often do not recognize them as COVID-19 diseases or an infection in vaccinated people often has no symptoms and is only detected by chance.

Why are vaccine breakthroughs happening?

Although vaccination is an important long-term contribution  to achieving herd immunity  and thus an end to the  pandemic  , vaccination breakthroughs can always occur. Two reasons are important here:

  1. The effectiveness of the vaccines:  The risk of becoming seriously ill with  COVID-19  is reduced by at least 80 percent with every vaccine. These are the vaccines from the manufacturers Moderna, BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Depending on the vaccine, a corona infection can be prevented by a certain percentage. While the mRNA vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna have an efficacy of 90 percent, the vector vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson protect against infection by around 65 percent. The effectiveness of the virus variants is sometimes lower.
  2. Type of pathogen:  The  corona virus  attacks the upper respiratory tract in particular. Here it is easy for him to multiply and be passed on. Sterile immunity, i.e. neither infection nor transmission, is difficult to achieve.

How dangerous are vaccine breakthroughs?

As long as the number of vaccination breakthroughs only accounts for a small proportion of the total infections, these are an important indicator for being able to continue to assess the effectiveness of the corona vaccination.

Vaccination breakthroughs are usually milder and those who are ill recover more quickly than unvaccinated infected people.

With 1,871 deaths in Germany as a result of COVID-19 in the group of 18 to 59 year olds, the RKI only registered one fully immunized person in this age group.

A study from Israel with a total of 152 breakthrough infections shows that only six completely healthy people contracted COVID-19, all others suffered from one of the following previous illnesses:

Even if breakthrough infections can occur, vaccinated people who are infected usually have a lower viral load and infection duration, and such severe courses only rarely occur. Still, it’s important to continue to exercise caution and follow AHA rules to avoid endangering yourself and others.

Third vaccination: Does a booster make sense?

A booster vaccination could be particularly useful for older people and risk groups, since the delta variant of the coronavirus in particular is more infectious and aggressive. In addition, there are hardly any differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated infected people in terms of viral load in the case of a delta infection in the first few days.


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