I’m vaccinated and got COVID — here’s what I learned

By Jen Spengler | June 6, 2022
Person gazing at the sky

Jennifer Spengler is a health and wellness writer for Sharp Health News.

After more than two years, two doses of a vaccine and two vaccine booster doses, COVID-19 caught up to me.

I thought I was doing everything right. I was still laying low, hadn’t spent time among large crowds, and monitored myself and my family members for symptoms of COVID. At the first sign of a sniffle or an ache, we tested with at-home antigen tests.

Unfortunately, exactly what I hoped to avoid came to pass — I tested positive for COVID-19. These are the five lessons I learned about having COVID-19, even after being fully vaccinated:

  1. The vaccine worked. I did not become severely ill. I did not require hospitalization. My oxygen levels remained stable and my lungs stayed clear. I’m grateful I had access to every vaccine dose available and relieved I took advantage of that privilege. During my bout with COVID-19, I often had to remind myself how much worse the illness could have been had I gone without the vaccine. And I appreciate I didn’t have to find out the hard way.

  2. I should have worn a face mask. With recent reports of rising case numbers due to the new, highly contagious omicron variants, a face mask would have offered another level of protection. And while I have no idea where I caught COVID, the only places I went in the three days prior to the onset of my symptoms were the grocery store, a local restaurant where I picked up dinner to go, and a nail salon. In each of these public indoor spaces, I followed local guidance but ignored an essential recommendation from health experts: I did not wear a face mask. Obviously, I regret this.

  3. With symptoms, test — then test again. On the morning I started to feel a little “off,” I took an at-home antigen test. The result was negative for infection. A colleague suggested I take a PCR test to confirm the result because I was scheduled to attend a large gathering a few days later. The result of the PCR test — taken that same day — was positive. This didn’t surprise me, as a new study found antigen tests catch only 20% of infections on the first day of symptoms, whereas PCR tests catch 80% of infections, thus explaining the conflicting results.

  4. “Mild” is subjective. My case would be considered mild. I was able to isolate at home and treat myself with over-the-counter medications, rest and hydration. But I felt really crummy and the fatigue was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I had a terrible headache and suffered coughing spasms until I choked. My husband came running more than once to ask if I needed to go to the ER — I didn’t. I also had congestion, chills, sneezing, brain fog and dizziness for days. The strangest part was symptoms came and went without any apparent rhyme or reason. Some days they were there, but other days different symptoms took a turn.

  5. Long COVID is still a possibility. Even though I’m as vaccinated as one can be at this point, I worry about the lingering fatigue and brain fog. And according to a recent study, my concerns aren’t unfounded. Researchers have found that while the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death, they cut the risk of long COVID by just 15%. The risks are even greater for people over age 65. I hope to avoid long-term COVID-related symptoms, but only time will tell.

Keep yourself — and your loved ones — safe
With my recent experience in mind, I join public health experts in encouraging vaccination. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines or boosters.

You should also test for COVID-19 if you have been exposed to someone with COVID or experience symptoms. I isolated as soon as I received my positive result, and no one else in our household became infected.

Finally, please learn from my lesson. Wear a mask when in public until the case numbers begin to tick down again. While I am thankful my illness was manageable, I wouldn’t wish a similar bout of COVID-19 on anyone — and certainly want everyone to avoid something more severe.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccination, testing and care resources.

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