You’ve seen the memes and the talking points on social media. As soon as it came out that people who are vaccinated against COVID can still catch the virus and transmit it to others, anti-vaxxers decided to seize on that information, and turn it into an argument that the COVID vaccines are totally worthless.
“Why should I get the vaccine when I can still get COVID?” your great Aunt Sally responds when you post an article about how the COVID vaccine has saved thousands of lives.
“How dumb do you have to be to take a vaccine that doesn’t even stop you from getting sick?” Brenda from high school posts, under a pic of herself with the “I trust my immune system, not the shot” frame.
These arguments are literally everywhere, and it’s hard to know what to say when you hear them. Because yes, especially since the emergence of the delta variant, vaccinated people are sometimes getting breakthrough infections. Yes, these infections are generally milder and don’t land you in the hospital. But some are symptomatic, and can spread the virus.
But here’s the thing—and it’s kind of complicated and nuanced, which I know not everyone is cool with—vaccinated people are less likely to get COVID in the first place. So, no, vaccinated people aren’t “just as likely to transmit COVID.”
How can they transmit it, when they are less likely to get sick?
As Dr. Craig Spencer, emergency-medicine doctor at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, explains in an article for The Atlantic, the majority of people getting and spreading COVID are unvaccinated folks.
“Vaccinated people are not as likely to spread the coronavirus as the unvaccinated,” Dr. Spencer says. “Even in the United States, where more than half of the population is fully vaccinated, the unvaccinated are responsible for the overwhelming majority of transmission.”
Dr. Spencer explains that yes, in light of delta, and with the possibility of waning antibodies from the vaccines, the efficacy of the vaccines have declined. They are not where they were in the winter and spring. Back then, we were hearing things like that the vaccines offered 95% protection from infection.
But vaccines rarely offer sterilizing protection, meaning that you don’t get sick at all. Their main jobs—and the COVID vaccines are doing a wonderful job at this—is to make sure you don’t get seriously ill, and to make sure you don’t die.
Still, even if the vaccines offer something less than 95%, they will still stop millions of people from getting sick and spreading the virus. Even if they only offer 80% protection, or 60%, or even 50% protection, that’s HUGE in terms of that many fewer people walking around with this virus in their body.
Compare that to how much protection you get if you are unvaccinated. Yeah, that’s pretty much 0%. I’d rather take anything than nothing. Plus, being almost guaranteed that I won’t die if I get COVID? Priceless.
And as Spencer says, “To spread the coronavirus, you have to have the coronavirus. And vaccinated people are far less likely to have the coronavirus—period.”
Additionally—and I think many people have missed this important piece of data—vaccinated people who are infected with COVID are actually sick for less time, because their immunity makes them able to clear the infection faster. As Spencer describes it, vaccinated people, “are likely contagious for a shorter period of time when compared with the unvaccinated, and they may harbor less infectious virus overall.”
So, vaccination means far fewer folks walking around with the virus in their nostrils and lungs, for fewer days, and possibly with less virus in their body to spread.
I dunno, I think that sounds like a win to me.
But all of this also goes to show that if we want to end this pandemic, we need as many freaking people vaccinated as possible. We can’t have so many people walking around with no immunity at all. These are the people keeping the virus spreading all over the place. We need more folks who are able to block the chain of transmission with the protection of our excellent vaccines.
So, enough with this bullshit argument that vaccinated people are just as likely to transmit COVID as unvaccinated people. It makes no sense, it’s factually incorrect, and it’s stopping people from making smart decisions for the health, and for their health of their communities.
This article was originally published on