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Is it safe or effective to get a vaccine dose for COVID-19 while testing positive?

Update

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend that people who have had COVID-19 still get vaccinated, because it may be possible to get reinfected and vaccines can sometimes induce better immunity than natural infection. However, this recommendation typically applies to people who have recovered from COVID-19, rather than people who are currently still sick. For people who currently have an active COVID-19 infection, their bodies are already creating antibodies in response, so health experts recommend waiting until after recovery for vaccination. Researchers are still understanding how immunity evolves over time, but it is generally thought that most people have some level of protection against reinfection for the first few months after recovery. The U.S. CDC even suggests that people who have not had COVID-19 in the past 90 days should be a higher priority for vaccination than people who have had COVID-19 recently. Additionally, it takes time for the body to develop immunological protection after vaccination, and vaccines requiring two doses do not have maximum protection until after the second dose. This means that it is still possible for someone to become sick if exposed to COVID-19 before or immediately after vaccination. People who are known to have COVID-19 may not be able to go receive vaccinations until after they recover because they could risk getting others sick. Scientists are continuing to learn about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines with the ongoing studies and data collection. For vaccines that have been approved by regulatory agencies and are already in the market, phase 4 clinical trials (also called “open-label studies” or “post-marketing surveillance”) are a way to continue studying the risks and potential benefits over a longer period of time. More data will become available in the future. 

This article was published on
January 7, 2021

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What our experts say

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend that people who have had COVID-19 still get vaccinated, because it may be possible to get reinfected and vaccines can sometimes induce better immunity than natural infection. However, this recommendation typically applies to people who have recovered from COVID-19, rather than people who are currently still sick.

For people who currently have an active COVID-19 infection, their bodies are already creating antibodies in response, so health experts recommend waiting until after recovery for vaccination. Researchers are still understanding how immunity evolves over time, but it is generally thought that most people have some level of protection against reinfection for the first few months after recovery. The U.S. CDC even suggests that people who have not had COVID-19 in the past 90 days should be a higher priority for vaccination than people who have had COVID-19 recently.

Additionally, it takes time for the body to develop immunological protection after vaccination, and vaccines requiring two doses do not have maximum protection until after the second dose. This means that it is still possible for someone to become sick if exposed to COVID-19 before or immediately after vaccination. People who are known to have COVID-19 may not be able to go receive vaccinations until after they recover because they could risk getting others sick.

Scientists are continuing to learn about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines with the ongoing studies and data collection. For vaccines that have been approved by regulatory agencies and are already in the market, phase 4 clinical trials (also called “open-label studies” or “post-marketing surveillance”) are a way to continue studying the risks and potential benefits over a longer period of time. More data will become available in the future. 

Context and background

As COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, there are many questions about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for specific groups of people, such as women who plan to become pregnant, or people who are currently sick with COVID-19. In some places, people who have an active COVID-19 infection are not eligible for vaccination until after they have recovered, due to current recommendations and guidelines provided by experts. 

More data is being collected during COVID-19 vaccine distribution to better answer these questions and continue learning about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in different situations over time. The data collection process during vaccination has even led to privacy concerns, which experts are working to address because data collection is essential for better understanding the COVID-19 vaccines to protect as many people as possible in the future. 

Resources

1. ‘Natural Immunity’ From Covid Is Not Safer Than a Vaccine (New York Times) 2. Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines (U.S. CDC) 3. Vaccine Testing and the Approval Process (U.S. CDC) 4. COVID-19 patients not eligible for vaccine while sick (ABC/KATU2) 5. Tracking who gets vaccinated is vital for public health, but it’s raising privacy concerns (LA Times)

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