COVID breakthrough infections are real. Here’s what you should know

·6 min read

OPINION: After contracting the delta variant in August, writer Sophia A. Nelson sounds the alarm on the need to get vaccinated and wear your mask

Summer has ended. Autumn is in the air. And we are all getting back into the grind of work, sending the kids back to school, and getting ready for the holidays that will be just around the corner.

The trouble is the delta variant and the COVID-19 virus is still raging. This past Labor Day, Americans had a 300% increase in the virus up from 2020. According to the CDC, Americans have now had over 40 million infections since the pandemic began in March 2020. And the number of deaths are rising once again, particularly in states like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas where vaccination rates are low.

We are not where we hoped we would be 18 months since the global scourge hit us hard in the spring of 2020. Right now, the United States is averaging 150,000 cases a day and 1500+ deaths a day. And as, President Joe Biden acknowledged in his Thursday address announcing new vaccine mandates for federal workers and government contractors, the United States is in a “tough stretch” and the pandemic “could last for awhile.”

President Joe Biden speaks about combatting the coronavirus pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on September 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden speaks about combatting the coronavirus pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on September 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

But for me, this is personal, once again. I was first infected with the COVID-19 virus while on a trip to Louisiana for a speaking event in February 2020. I was very sick by the time I got to my next stop in Indianapolis days later. I was never so sick in my life. I couldn’t breathe because I was coughing so badly. My body hurt in ways I still cannot explain and I could barely stand up. My fever spiked to 104 degrees. At that time, there weren’t even accurate COVID tests available. I had all of the symptoms, and my chest x-rays showed pneumonia. The reality, however, when I got tested for COVID antibodies in May 2020 is that I was indeed sick with the virus as suspected and I had some long-term lung issues that developed in the late fall of 2020.

Fast forward to May 2021, I finished my second shot of the Pfizer vaccine and joined the ranks of the fully vaccinated. Like many of you who got the vaccine, I felt a sense of relief and some security that I could once again venture out — of course, wearing my mask, washing my hands, and social distancing everywhere possible. And for a while it worked. Until I took a long-awaited family vacation in August to our beach home in coastal South Carolina. All of us were vaccinated and took COVID tests, and we stayed in the beach house, cooked our own food and fellowshipped.

About 7 days into the trip, however, I started to feel unwell; I had experienced some mild symptom. At the time, I thought it was a summer cold. Eventually, I felt icky enough that I set up a PCR swab test at a local CVS, and within hours, I had a positive result. I was devastated and depressed all at once. We cut our vacation short and I came back home to Virginia to see my doctor and quarantine for 10-14 days in the safety of my home.

I had been lulled, like tens of millions into feeling a false sense of security that actually never existed. That fact is that the COVID vaccines do not prevent you from getting the infection. That needs to be clearly stated and clearly understood. What they do is help prevent infection between 85-95% depending on which vaccine you got, and they give you 100% protection from death if you get the virus and or serious illness. I can attest that the latter is true. I was not as sick the second time around, but I had to quarantine 10 days, and at one point around day 3, my symptoms worsened — so much so that I was admitted by my doctor to the ER to get emergency antibodies and REGEN treatments. It made a huge difference in my recovery.

Here’s my message to us as a Black community to keep us all safe:

Get vaccinated

A health worker gives a man a shot of the Jenssen COVID-19 vaccine from the Johnson & Johnson - theGrio.com
A health worker gives a man a shot of the Jenssen COVID-19 vaccine from the Johnson & Johnson. (Photo by Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images)

One of my professional colleagues who refused to get vaccinated contracted the virus while traveling this summer and spent almost 30 days in the hospital. She now has to be on oxygen and go to rehab therapy. I have no idea what the long-term effects will be for a middle-aged woman not in excellent health or great physical fitness, but I suspect the outlook is not good. Compare that to me, also middle aged, in good physical shape, who only took 8-10 days to recover from flu like symptoms, no respiratory issues at all, and no ill effects.

Wear a mask

We cannot let our guard down. This virus is raging and we have allowed social distancing and mask wearing to become a political football when it is a common-sense public health safety measure. Wear a mask at the store, at the grocery store, outside near others, in any social gathering or connection with others who you have no clue about their vaccination status or health status. Protect yourself, your family and others.

Do not vacation or travel to COVID hotspots

I went to the Bahamas for a wedding in June — to a vaccine only Hyatt Resort. You had to show proof of the vaccine in order to fly and stay there. You also had to have health insurance while there, take a mandatory COVID test and one before you returned the United States. Mask wearing was enforced everywhere, social distancing was observed and nobody got sick. I went to my beach house in the U.S. in a COVID hotspot in South Carolina with zero of the aforementioned protocols and optional mask enforcement and I got infected with the delta variant. Get my point?

We as a community have to decide whether we want to live, be healthy and protect our families, or do we want to draw political and cultural lines that make us skeptical of the vaccines and cause us to forgo them for homeopathic remedies or other home grown cures, only to get sick and face serious injury or death? That is the choice folks. And it is a bad choice.

Please get vaccinated. Please travel safely. Please wear a mask. And please protect your children as they return to school.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

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