Can I Test Positive for COVID-19 After Being Fully Vaccinated?

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Key Takeaways

  • It is possible to become infected with COVID-19 after you get the vaccine.
  • A small number of people have had positive COVID-19 tests more than two weeks after completing their vaccination.
  • Continuing to wear a mask, washing hands frequently, and maintaining social distance are important even after you are vaccinated.

If you're seeing reports of positive COVID-19 cases in people who've recently been vaccinated against the virus, don't panic. These "breakthrough" cases are not unexpected and indicate that the vaccines are working the way they should.

What Is a Breakthrough Case?

A breakthrough case is when a fully vaccinated person later gets the disease they were vaccinated for. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after a second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. Most vaccines do not offer 100% protection against infection, so breakthrough cases aren't unique to COVID-19.

Breakthrough Cases Happen

Breakthrough cases occur at low levels in children immunized against varicella (chickenpox) and in adults immunized against influenza.

In a recent White House press briefing on COVID-19, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that breakthrough infections are not uncommon. “You will see breakthrough infections in any vaccination when you’re vaccinating literally tens and tens and tens of millions of people,” Fauci said.

Due to the spread of COVID-19 variants, there is also the chance that you may be infected with a different strain of the virus the vaccines don't offer as much protection against.

"One of the important things that will be done and must be done is to sequence the genome of the virus that’s the breakthrough virus, because it would be very important to see if [it is] the wild-type virus, which would indicate a real diminution of immunity, or whether it broke through with one of the variants, which would be much more explainable if you don’t have enough cross-reactivity,” Fauci said.

Milder Symptoms

Sarah McCauley, a nurse from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, knows firsthand that breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are occurring; she experienced one herself. “I got my first COVID-19 vaccination on December 23, 2020 and received my second vaccination on January 15, 2021," McCauley tells Verywell. "I was tested on March 28 and found out I was positive for COVID-19 on March 30. I have been working on the COVID floor at Lehigh Valley Hospital, but I believe my husband contracted the virus first and passed it to the family. He tested positive along with our oldest son.”

“I was really kind of shocked that I tested positive, and even a little bit frustrated and upset,” McCauley says. She experienced headaches, body aches, sinus congestion and pain, and loss of her sense of smell. “Even my teeth and ears hurt,” she says. 

But McCauley believes that the fact she had been fully vaccinated kept her bout with COVID-19 from being severe. “I’m hoping that’s the case because I do have asthma, and I did not have too many respiratory systems,” McCauley says. “I’m feeling OK now; I just get very tired.”

If you do experience one of these breakthrough cases, one of the perks of being vaccinated is you'll likely experience milder symptoms. While the vaccine can't protect you from the virus fully, it can prevent severe disease and hospitalization.

What This Means For You

If you've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there's still a chance you could contract the virus. The good news is, if you do develop symptoms, they likely won't lead to a severe case. But even after vaccination, you should continue to practice safety precautions to remain protected like wearing a mask and social distancing.

Stay Cautious

If you experience symptoms after being fully vaccinated, do not assume that you can't contract COVID-19 and continue to be out in public, potentially spreading the virus. Talk to your doctor and go get tested.

If you have recently been vaccinated, the possibility of a breakthrough case of COVID-19 is the reason why medical experts recommend you do not let your guard down yet and continue taking these precautions:

  • Wear a mask in public
  • Stay socially distanced from other people
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds 
  • Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available
  • Live a healthy lifestyle—eat right, sleep well, move often, and reduce stress

“Don’t assume that just because you’re vaccinated you can’t get COVID-19,” McCauley says. “Err on the side of caution.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Breakthrough cases: tracking disease infection after vaccination.

  2. Zhu S, Zeng F, Xia L, He H, Zhang J. Incidence rate of breakthrough varicella observed in healthy children after 1 or 2 doses of varicella vaccine: results from a meta-analysis. Am J Infect Control. 2018;46(1):e1-e7. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2017.07.029

  3. Durviaux S, Treanor J, Beran J, et al. Genetic and antigenic typing of seasonal influenza virus breakthrough cases from a 2008-2009 vaccine efficacy trial. Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2014;21(3):271-9. doi:10.1128/CVI.00544-13