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Experts Explain Why a Nurse That Received Vaccine Tested Positive for COVID-19


A healthcare provider has tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, but experts say there’s no reason to fear. The news is sending shockwaves all over the internet. Providers who have received their first shot of the two-dose drug still need to use caution to protect themselves from infection; it takes time for the vaccine to take effect. 

As more people pull up their sleeves, it’s still too soon to let down our guard when it comes to the virus.

A Noteworthy Case of COVID-19

Matthew W., a 45-year-old emergency room nurse in San Diego, CA, received the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine on December 18th. At the time, he said his only side effect was a bit of stiffness in his arm.

However, just six days later on Christmas Eve, he started experiencing chills, fatigue, and muscle pain after working a shift in the hospital’s COVID ward. He then went to a drive-up testing clinic in the city, which confirmed that he had contracted COVID-19.

San Diego is currently experiencing one of the worst outbreaks in the country, with ICU capacity hovering around zero percent. Providers throughout the city have been treating as many coronavirus patients as possible, so it’s not exactly unexpected that Matthew W. would contract the virus, according to Dr. Christian Ramers, an infectious disease specialist with Family Health Centers of San Diego.

What the Experts Say

For starters, the vaccine does not grant the person immediate protection from the virus. “We know from the vaccine clinical trials that it’s going to take about 10 to 14 days for you to start to develop protection from the vaccine,” Ramers said.

Even after the first 10 to 14 days, providers and patients must receive two shots of the drug, administered exactly 21 days apart, in order for the vaccine to work. “That first dose we think gives you somewhere around 50%, and you need that second dose to get up to 95%,” Ramers added.

Experts also say that it’s possible that Matthew W. contracted COVID-19 before he got his first shot of the drug on December 18th.

Dr. Amy Herold, who is the Chief Medical Officer at Napa’s Queen of the Valley Medical Center, adds, “My guess is that they were exposed just before they got the vaccine, and they weren’t showing symptoms yet or just afterwards.”

We know that symptoms usually start to appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus, so it’s likely that Matthew W. caught it before he received the first shot of the vaccine.

Regardless of the cause, the situation remains unfortunate, nonetheless.

“It’s a sad coincidence that if somebody has already been exposed and gotten vaccinated, the vaccine doesn’t work within days. I mean it does work within days but certainly not in less than a week,” says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado of Stanford University.

How to Stay Safe Going Forward

The news is a wake-up call for providers and patients looking to get vaccinated. We can’t assume that people who have received the shot do not have the virus, especially if they are working in a high-risk environment.

Experts also say it’s important to limit our exposure to the virus even after we get the first shot of the vaccine. That includes vigorous hand-washing, having access to clean PPE, and maintaining social distancing.

Even though the vaccine doesn’t give patients immediate protection from the virus, it’s a blessing for many providers and patients.

As Dr. Harold added, “Under my mask I have the biggest grin that I’m finally getting it, because it feels like hope right now and for all of us that are taking care of COVID patients and kind of stretched to the limit right now. To have something to look forward to and hope for is a very powerful thing.”

Health experts are urging caution and patience as officials continue to distribute millions of doses all over the country.

“You hear health practitioners being very optimistic about it being the beginning of the end, but it’s going to be a slow roll, weeks to months as we roll out the vaccine,” Ramers said.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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