Countries like the US, UK, Singapore and Israel that have vaccinated a majority of its population, are witnessing frequent cases of breakthrough infection.
Breakthrough infection occurs when a person contracts the virus on the 14th day or later than that from the day of the second dose of vaccination. Initial evidence had suggested that breakthrough infection occurred only in a small percentage of the vaccinated population.
But the current evidence emerging from the countries where the majority of the population have been vaccinated has reversed the trend.
For instance, Israel which is the world’s most vaccinated country has reported that 50 per cent of its vaccinated population have contracted breakthrough infections. Similarly, data from the US and Singapore in the recent past showed that out of total new infections, 75 per cent were reported in vaccinating population.
These breakthrough infections are being attributed to the highly infectious delta variant which can escape immunity caused by vaccines in the body. Fortunately, all evidence has established that breakthrough infections are mild and don’t cause severe disease or death in a majority of cases.
According to the national public health agency of the United States, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “As of August 2, 2021, more than 164 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. During the same time, CDC received reports from 49 U.S. states and territories of 7,525 patients with Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough infection who were hospitalized or died.”
Back home, states like Kerala have been reporting a significant increase in the number of breakthrough infections.
Health experts say that on one hand, it is a cause for concern that vaccinated people can be a spreader of the virus, on the other, it is a matter of great satisfaction that breakthrough infection is not severe and it gives the benefit of natural immunity to a vaccinated individual without putting his or her life at risk.
“Natural infection gives immunity which is far superior to vaccine-acquired immunity provided a person survives the natural infection. So it is not a good idea to choose to get infected naturally,” Noted epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, who is a core member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), said.
He added, “So if a vaccinated person gets an infection, it produces mild symptoms in the majority of cases and this way he or she can acquire the benefits of natural immunity. So, in a way, we can say breakthrough infections are a boon in disguise.”
Dr. Ishwarprasad Gilada, Secretary-General of Organised Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG), a federation of 15 professional associations of post-graduate doctors in India, agrees that natural infection, if without severe illness is always better in getting long term immunity than the one through Vaccination.
“But since it is not sure who will survive natural infection and who will not, vaccination plays a crucial role here. It prepares the body to take on the virus and fight it out efficiently without causing any severe health issues. So, breakthrough infection gives you natural infection and at the same time will not allow the body to have severe illness or hospitalisation,” Dr Gilada added.
Health experts say that the virus will not spare anyone and whatever precaution one takes, he or she has to get infected sooner or later. So those who have recovered naturally are safe but those who haven’t contracted the virus should get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Breakthrough infection should be tracked and monitored for the purpose of studying the behaviour of the virus as it is a new disease. If it is causing mild infection, people shouldn’t get panicked as merely an infection is not as much a matter of concern as severity and death,” a senior government doctor, who doesn’t want to be quoted, said.