Yes, You Can Get Covid Between Vaccine Doses
It’s hard to measure exactly when the pandemic started. Or rather, when it started to impact our daily lives, and when its grave potential began to hit home. But for me, as for many Americans, March 13, 2020 was the Last Normal Day. It was the last day my children went to in-person, normal school — unmasked! on the school bus! sitting in crowded classrooms and cafeterias!
So it was a little over a year later when, on April 7, 2021, my husband, my teenage daughter, and I all got our first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. And we each breathed sighs of relief, thinking that the future, and our post-pandemic freedom, were right around the corner.
It had been a long year. Our family had weathered the pandemic remarkably well, all told. We were fortunate to be able to work from home, to be able to socially distance. Like everyone, we established new routines, new rhythms to our day-to-day existence.
Over time, our rules and household protocols shifted, both with changing scientific guidance, and with our own levels of fatigue and frustration. We tried to strike a balance that wasn’t cavalier but still respected our mental health and need for connection.
Sometimes we felt insane for how little we were allowing ourselves to do. When we ventured out a little further, that felt insane too. We were constantly trying to navigate a set of impossible choices. By the beginning of April, 2021, we were crawling towards the finish line, exhausted and overwhelmed by the cumulative stress of thousands of small decisions that each felt like they could have devastating consequences.
So that first shot of vaccine felt like freedom. Freedom from our isolated, always-home life, but also freedom from those thousands of decisions. Soon we’d be living the life of the fully vaccinated, able to accept an outdoor dining invitation or purchase a plane ticket without the excruciating scientific and moral calculus. We were gleeful about our sore arms, grateful beyond reckoning for the ache that represented the beginning of the end.
Two weeks later, my teenage daughter complained of a sore throat. “The pollen is sky high,” I told her. “Everyone’s sneezing.” She’d been spending time with only three other kids recently, keeping her pod small. No parties, nothing crazy. One of her friends had a sore throat too. I took her to urgent care for a strep test, since she’s susceptible to strep; she’d already had it once during the pandemic, from some inexplicable source. The strep test was negative.
Maybe it was just allergies. Maybe she and her friends had all caught the same cold. It didn’t seem any more serious than that. Some headache, some congestion, nothing major. She stayed home from in-person school and logged in to her classes virtually, since she was tired and anyway it was so convenient. She could stay home and rest and not miss any school.
Then one kid’s mom took him for a covid test, just to be on the safe side. It was positive. One by one, all four of them tested positive. Including my daughter. The sore throat, congestion, mild cough… they hadn’t seemed like covid symptoms. She never had a fever. It looked like allergies, or a cold.
The rest of our family felt fine, but the day we got my daughter’s positive test result, all of us got tested too. My husband and I, both partially vaccinated like my daughter, were negative. My 13-year-old son was positive.
In my son’s case, he’d had allergy symptoms for a month. It was Spring; he was taking allergy meds regularly. If he had any covid symptoms at all, they were indistinguishable from the congestion he’d been experiencing for weeks already. He was energetic and as lively as ever — you would never know he was sick.
It’s strange, to be in complete quarantine while the rest of your community is coming out of it. Capacity restrictions being lifted, restaurants reopening, people gathering in ways most of us haven’t for over a year. And I’m back to not even being able to run into the grocery store for a missing recipe ingredient. My husband and I are probably fine, but we’re following health department guidance and isolating just in case.
After all this time, it seems comically unlucky to have covid strike now. So close to being fully vaccinated, so close to being able to rejoin society. But I realize how incredibly lucky we truly are. Even my daughter who got sick had a mild case, probably due to the partial protection of the vaccine. She’s fully recovered now with no ill effects. My husband and I were able to stay healthy despite two covid-positive household members, likely due to our own measure of protection. My son has been able to weather his illness with barely a sniffle. We are exceptionally fortunate. It could have been so much worse.
Our family’s re-entry into society may have hit a speed bump. But we’re okay. And despite the brief delay, or maybe even because of it, we’re going to be so very grateful to cross that finish line in the end.