WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In this era of social media, COVID-19 misinformation often spreads faster than the virus, itself.
It is time to get to the bottom of a claim fueling debate and discord among two groups of people -- those who are and are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
The VERIFY team has seen variations of this assertion: given the occurrence of breakthrough cases, people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are 'just as likely' to spread the virus as people who are not.
Is that true?
No, vaccinated people are not 'just as likely' to spread the virus as people who are unvaccinated. Even if they contract breakthrough infections (infections post-vaccination), those infections are shorter and contain less live virus.
WHAT WE FOUND
An October research study published in the Lancet examined what is called 'viral load,' or how much virus is in an infected person's body.
The study found COVID vaccination reduces the risk of contracting the virus, including the Delta variant. It also lessens the length of the infection. However, the study determined fully-vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections have a peak viral load similar to that of people who are not vaccinated.
Infectious diseases physician Chris Ohl, MD, noted while that finding could be concerning from a transmission standpoint, the viral loads are not 'apples to apples.'
"While the peak viral load may be just as high, it turns out that for people who are vaccinated, the viral load decreases much quicker than it does in an unvaccinated person. So, the time available to transmit is shorter," he explained.
Plus, the virus, itself, is different.
"The other thing we found out is when looking for actual viable, alive virus in (vaccinated) people with these peak viral loads, it's harder to find," he said.
Dr. Ohl explained, in other words, a person's immune system beats up the virus before it is detectable on a PCR test. He pointed out vaccinated college students who live together in residence halls tend to have low transmission rates, even with breakthrough cases. Additionally, he said the risk of transmission in vaccinated households is 50% less than in unvaccinated households.
Breakthrough infections remain rarer than infections among people who are unvaccinated. The CDC director recently noted unvaccinated people are nearly six times as likely to contract the virus and 14 times more likely to die from it.
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