Walnut Hills woman catches rare case of COVID-19 between vaccine shots

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Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 18:47:09-04

The chance of catching COVID-19 between your vaccines is extremely low, but it can still happen. Walnut Hills resident Emily Gerrior, who received her first shot on March 30, said Thursday she’s still recovering from her early April bout with the virus.

“I would describe it as a really bad cold or flu,” she said.

She lost her sense of taste and smell on April 4. Headaches, dizziness and fatigue arrived in their place. On April 7, her COVID-19 test results came back positive.

“I definitely am feeling a little bit better every day nowadays,” she said. “Finally, so I'm definitely on the mend, I'd say.”

Suzi Francis, manager of ambulatory pharmacy at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, said cases like Gerrior’s are uncommon but possible for patients in the middle of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-step vaccination process.

The vaccines provide about 95% protection from COVID-19 at the end of that process. Before, although a patient who’s received one vaccine is more protected than a patient who hasn’t, the virus can still cause problems.

“You start building antibodies after the first vaccine,” she said. “However, as best as Pfizer can estimate, after one shot you have about 87% of the antibodies — likely only about 57 or so percent protected. Now, that's why you need both vaccines to really reach that 95% efficacy or protection against yourself getting COVID.”

Gerrior said she’s been cautious throughout the pandemic — one of the most cautious people she knows — and still isn’t sure how she would have gotten the virus.

After her diagnosis, conflicting pieces of advice had her worried she’d need to restart her vaccination or postpone her second appointment by three months.

“I had heard a lot of stuff from a lot of different people that I had to wait quite a bit, or that I had to, you know, it had to be 90 days after or something,” she said. “I luckily was able to just contact my doctor and they said that I shouldn't have to reschedule my appointment, and as soon as I was out of the official quarantine period, as long as my shot fell after that, I should be able to still get it on schedule.”

She’ll go in for her second shot next week, on the same date as originally scheduled. She views her COVID case as a reminder that caution is still the best policy.

“Everybody stay vigilant about it,” she said. “Keep wearing your mask, and just because you have the vaccine doesn't mean that you can't get COVID somewhere. Stay cautious."

Pfizer and Moderna both say that patients don’t reach maximum immunity until two weeks after their second vaccination.

A very small number of people may still get COVID-19 after completing their vaccination and waiting two weeks. This phenomenon is called “breakthrough COVID,” and health leaders such as Dr. Anthony Fauci believe some cases are inevitable given the number of people who will receive the vaccine. Ninety-five percent immunity leaves some room for infection.

However, breakthrough cases are typically mild or symptom-free, thanks to the presence of COVID antibodies in the patient’s system.