Breakthough: One family’s journey through vaccination and infection

By Benjamin Morrison
July 19, 2021

” . . . if you think you are immune from the virus because you are vaccinated, my family can now tell you from personal experience that this is not true. I also hope that does not discourage anyone from seeing the vaccine as a positive decision, as I certainly do . . .”

Benjamin Morrison with his wife Olga and son Julian.

Like many of you, my knowledge of the term “breakthrough cases” was limited to the occasional mention during the nightly news of what is often described as a very rare circumstance in which individuals test positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. My wife, a frontline healthcare worker, received the Pfizer vaccine last December. Following that, I received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April when it first became available to my age group. Since then, like millions of other Americans who received the vaccine, we have largely returned to a lifestyle resembling pre-COVID normalcy. Whether it is dinner parties in our home, mask-free shopping trips, and even a much-needed vacation to California about a month ago, we have gleefully accepted the CDC’s recommendations that those of us who chose to receive the vaccine can participate in all these activities with very little concern. And it has honestly been wonderful, especially after a year of giving up so many things that we love.

As the Fourth of July approached this year, we made plans to celebrate with many of our friends. When you live in an area of the country where COVID-19 vaccine rates are lower than the national average, you must accept the reality that socializing means you are likely exposing yourself and your loved ones to individuals who have made the personal decision to not receive the vaccine. And that was something we were comfortable with, as the CDC has repeatedly told us that there is very little risk in doing so. I did not even think twice about it until about 4 days after the holiday when I started to become congested and slightly feverish. Surely it could not be COVID, I thought to myself. But I was wrong.

After you test positive for COVID, the health department contacts you and talks to you about your symptoms and what to expect. The epidemiologists here in Nassau County informed me that cases of individuals who are vaccinated that test positive are still quite rare but are noticeably increasing in our area as the new variants become more prevalent. They reassured me that the data and research indicate that because I was vaccinated my symptoms would most likely be less severe and the duration of the symptoms would be shortened. I have no way of knowing whether the vaccine I received had anything to do with it or not, but I will say that my symptoms only lasted about 48 hours and were relatively minor compared to those that I have heard friends describe to me who were infected and unvaccinated. I personally believe the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was successful at preventing severe illness, and even though I am disappointed I was still able to contract the virus, I am glad that I received the vaccine when I had the opportunity to.

When I was contacted by the epidemiologists at the health department, they explained to me that it would be very unlikely that I could transmit COVID to others who are also vaccinated. Unfortunately, the odds were once again against us. About 6 days after my symptoms first appeared, my wife also tested positive for COVID. As I mentioned earlier, she received a different vaccine than I did, but neither offered us full protection from contracting the virus. On a positive note, like myself, my wife had relatively minor symptoms that only lasted a few days. Additionally, our 8-month-old son has made it through the past week and a half with no notable changes to his health. Our pediatrician informed us that he received antibodies through breastfeeding after my wife was vaccinated, and that likely has kept him symptom-free, despite the likelihood that he has been directly exposed to the virus. By the end of the week, we will all be through our required isolation periods, and hopefully back to work and life as we had once again become accustomed to.

Spending about 10 days contained within a 1,400 square foot house with an 8-month-old baby has been challenging, and at times I know we have all wanted to run out the front door and scream. But like millions of others across the country over the past year and a half, we stuck together and made it through as a family. We are truly blessed to have gotten through it without significant illness, and for that I am very grateful. It has certainly made us revisit our thoughts on what our comfort level is being around unvaccinated individuals, and whether venturing out in public without a mask is the right decision in all circumstances.

Receiving the vaccine is a personal decision that everyone needs to make for themselves, as is what your comfort level and risk tolerance is based on your own health and those of your loved ones. I hope this helps individuals in our community understand that statistically if you think you are immune from the virus because you are vaccinated, my family can now tell you from personal experience that this is not true. I also hope that does not discourage anyone from seeing the vaccine as a positive decision, as I certainly do, even after what we have gone through. The more knowledge we have, the more informed decisions we can make for ourselves and our families.

Benjamin Morrison lives with his wife Olga and their son Julian in Fernandina Beach. He is a regular contributor to the Fernandina Observer on issues related to our community.

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