Fully vaxxed frontliner gets COVID-19

Published November 9, 2021, 2:03 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Here’s why she’s urging people to get vaccinated

Many of us may have heard about vaccine breakthrough infections—that is to say, a person getting infected with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Why does it happen and what does it mean for individuals both vaccinated and not? A frontliner and an expert Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed) share insights and weigh in on the important role of the vaccine in breakthrough infections.

For Farrah Visey, registered nurse and clinical department manager of MakatiMed, exposure to COVID-19-positive patients is all in a day’s work. “People say I must have an agimat (amulet) because COVID-positive patients have to pass through me,” she says. Yet for someone at high risk of getting infected by the virus, she initially wasn’t keen on getting vaccinated. “Number one akong kontra diyan (I was the first to oppose it),” she adds.

Eventually she changed her mind, thanks to thorough information campaigns on the merits of vaccinations spread to employees by MakatiMed’s Infection Prevention and Control Unit. Visey, who got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine two weeks after she completed rabies shots for a dog bite, received her second dose in June.

Silver bullet? The timing couldn’t have been better. Months later, Visey would experience what was known as a breakthrough infection—getting COVID-19 even after being fully vaccinated.

Weren’t vaccines supposed to be the silver bullet against the coronavirus? Yes and no, say experts. “The initial vaccines were developed to prevent the Wuhan SARS-COV2 strains,” explains Dr. Ma. Tarcela S. Gler, an infectious diseases specialist at MakatiMed. “Breakthrough infections happen among vaccinated individuals who are exposed to new variants because the vaccines have lower efficacy to these variants.”

A breakthrough infection doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work—rather, they prevent you from experiencing a more serious form of infection.

A breakthrough infection doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work—rather, they prevent you from experiencing a more serious form of infection. An August 2021 report of COVID-19 cases in MakatiMed confirms this. According to the report, unvaccinated patients outnumbered both fully and partially vaccinated patients with moderate, severe, and critical symptoms. Among the patients who expired while they were confined, 75 percent were unvaccinated.

“In MakatiMed, infections among healthcare workers who were vaccinated was 77 percent lower compared to those who were unvaccinated,” adds Dr. Gler.

Despite being around COVID-positive patients, Visey didn’t get infected at the hospital.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HOSPITAL BED Farrah Visey (left, in blue scrubs) at the hospital with a patient

One Saturday in August, she went to the house of a 70-year-old aunt whose blood sugar had spiked to 500-600 mg/dl (the ideal range for a person with diabetes is between 80-130 mg/dl). As she administered insulin, the aunt, who had her shot of the COVID-19 vaccine a week before, coughed on Visey’s face. Visey was wearing a face mask but not a face shield.

While the aunt was admitted at the hospital, she tested positive for COVID-19. Upon hearing the news, Visey knew she could have carried the virus in her home.

Her hunch proved right. The following day, her husband (who had his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine) developed a runny nose. His swab test result came out positive. A week later, Visey’s own swab test came out positive as well, after manifesting a little cough and a cold and loss of smell.

Given their mild symptoms, neither she nor her husband needed to be confined. Instead, they isolated themselves at home for the mandatory 10 days. In that period, Visey’s husband was symptom-free after three days, as was she, though it took a while for her to regain her sense of smell.

While recovering, Visey admitted feeling a fear of death. “COVID is really frightening, and a lot of patients categorized as critical die,” she says.

But the ordeal also made her understand the value of the vaccine. “Yes, it definitely helped,” she confirms. “When I was in isolation, I really appreciated the vaccine and thought that if I didn’t empower myself with knowledge about how vaccines worked, I might have been one of those in the critical stage.”

Since then, she’s become more mindful about observing minimum health and safety protocols. She keeps her mask on, washes her hands, practices social distancing, and takes her vitamin C with zinc religiously.

The once vaccine-hesitant Visey has also become a vaccine advocate. Recently, she convinced a co-worker to get jabbed. In turn, that colleague talked family members into availing of the vaccine program in their respective communities. “No one knows who can get COVID-19—even people who don’t go out get it,” she points out. “If you can get the vaccine now, get it.”

“Vaccines are still the best tool to prevent severe infections for COVID-19,” avers Dr. Gler. “Even if the vaccines have lesser efficacy to certain variants, they have been shown to have some activity. So, we need to push for vaccination for a certain mass of people, so we reach the herd immunity threshold.”

For more information, please contact MakatiMed On-Call at +632.8888 8999, email [email protected], or visit www.makatimed.net.ph.