SPANISH FORT, Ala. (WALA) – Laura Allen was among the people who line up early for a COVID-19 vaccine shot. Since she is a health care worker and her husband is a firefighter, both were eligible in the first wave.
And the Spanish Fort woman said she had extra motivation – her brother-in-law died from the disease in January.
“The day that he passed away, we made our appointment to get vaccinated,” she said.
Allen said she got the Pfizer version of the vaccine in February and figured her coronavirus fears were over. She showed her and her husband’s vaccination cards to a reporter.
But earlier this month, she Allen and her husband both started feeling unwell. At first, they thought it was allergies and then maybe a bad cold.
Tests confirmed the unlikely: Both were positive for COVID-19.
“What the heck?” she said, recalling her reaction when the test came back positive. “We’ve been vaccinated.”
Allen and her husband are not he only members of the family to be fully vaccinated and infected. She said she has a cousin in Baldwin County who currently is battling COVID, along with her mother and daughter. All three, she said, were fully vaccinated.
Health care experts said they expected some vaccinated people to get the virus, since no vaccine is 100 percent effective. The Alabama Department of Public Health has identified 1,663 residents who have been fully vaccinated yet still contracted the virus. That is about 1 tenth of 1 percent of the more than 1.5 million people who are vaccinated.
Since many vaccinated people who do contract he virus have mild case or no symptoms at all, it is likely the actual number is higher. But Dr. Karen Landers, the state’s assistant health officer, told FOX10 News that the vaccines have proven exceptionally effective.
“There certainly could be other cases, but we do not have those reported to us,” she said. “But I think the number is still exceedingly low.”
In fact, Landers said, nearly three times as many people in the state have been infected with COVID-19 more than once. That is even more significant considering that almost three times as many people have been vaccinated than have contracted the virus overall.
“We’re able to document many more re-infections than we see people vaccinated getting COVID,” said Rendi Murphree, director of the Mobile County Health Department’s Bureau of Disease Surveillance and Environmental Services.
Landers said the fading natural immunity is one reason why people should get vaccinated even if they previously have had the disease, although she added that people should wait 90 says if they have received monoclonal antibody treatment.
Murphree, speaking at a Facebook Live broadcast on Monday, estimated that as many as two-thirds of vaccinated people who contract the virus do not show symptoms.
“Even if they do get infected, they’re gonna have a very mild illness,” she said.
Dr. Bill Admire, vice president and chief medical officer at Infirmary Health System, made that point at a news conference Friday.
“If you’re vaccinate, you’re gonna have a much better chance of avoiding contact with disease and actually coming down with symptoms,” he said. “And if you do come down symptoms, they’re less severe than if you were not vaccinated.”
Landers agree that the data bear that out. The vast majority of people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated. Of the more than 500 Alabamians who have died form the disease since April 1, only 20 were fully vaccinated.
“The persons who died who had been fully vaccinated, had underlying health problems, other issues or were persons in higher-risk age groups,” she said.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, has drawn a great deal of attention recently as health officials warn that it is more contagious than the original virus. Landers said the vaccines have proven effective against him. But she warned that might not always be the case with future variants.
“The more important issue is that the longer we allow these variants to circulate, the more opportunities we give the virus to mutate, then we’re gonna have a variant that’s going to escape the effectiveness of the vaccine,” she said.
As for Allen, the ultrasound technician said it is strange that she survived the entire pandemic working in the health care field only to get the virus after she had been vaccinated. She said several firefighters in her husband’s station contracted the virus, making her think that he probably passed it on to her. But she added that she cannot be sure. She said she also does not know which variant she had.
Allen said the illness first presented itself as cold and cough symptoms. She added that the fatigue got worse.
“I knew that something was really getting bad when I had to take a nap at work one day,” she said.
Despite the ordeal, Allen said she is not sorry she got the vaccine. She said it did not hurt her and may have made her illness less severe,
“It really wasn’t that bad,” she said.