The Atlantic Daily: How to Think About Your COVID-19 Risk, Post-vaccination

Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 remain very rare, but some are inevitable. Here’s what you should know about these infections.

A health-care worker places a Band-Aid on a patient.
Adam Glanzman / Bloomberg / Getty

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If you’re feeling unnerved about the rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States, you aren’t alone. Officials in Los Angeles reimplemented indoor mask restrictions for the fully vaccinated and the unprotected alike, and even the markets got spooked about Delta today.

The majority of people who are getting sick are unvaccinated. Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 remain very, very rare, our staff writer Katherine J. Wu reminded me in conversation today.

But even if you did get your vaccine, you might be worried for your health. If you’re confused about whether to take additional precautions—or just want to better understand why breakthroughs happen—keep reading.

Some breakthrough cases are inevitable.

Immunity operates on a sliding scale. Katie pointed to an analogy our colleague Sarah Zhang used in January: A vaccine is a dimmer, not a light switch. You’re best protected from the worst outcomes, such as hospitalization and death. But no vaccinated person is magically, 100 percent immune. Don’t be caught off guard when you start to hear breakthrough stories.

These cases are hard to measure.

Many breakthrough cases are asymptomatic, but raw counts lump those together with symptomatic cases.

Breakthrough rates are also tricky because we don’t systematically test vaccinated people for the virus, Katie explained. But we can weigh a combination of factors—who is getting sick where, the severity of their illness, and the presence of variants—to understand when boosters or a new vaccine might be needed.

We do expect breakthrough numbers to rise over time, and a lot of experts aren’t concerned about the statistics we’re seeing just yet, Katie told me. And vaccine makers are already working on booster shots, which should bump immunity toward better protection.

Should the fully vaccinated take additional precautions? It depends on the context.

Katie recommended checking virus conditions like you check the weather. Consider not only the prevalence of the virus in your community but also things such as vaccination rates, hospitalizations, and the presence of variants.

“If you know Delta is running rampant in your area, that’s maybe another tiny asterisk to put on your risk calculations,” Katie told me. She is personally choosing to wear a mask indoors.


The news in three sentences:

(1) The Dow dropped 700 points over Delta. (2) Haiti’s interim prime minister, who took control of the government after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, is stepping down in favor of a newer appointee. (3) The scenic-as-ever 2021 Tour de France ended with a victory for ​​Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates (see pictures).

What to read if ... you’re excited to watch Jeff Bezos go to space tomorrow:

Where does space even begin? Our space reporter Marina Koren explains why that question is a rather fraught one, for billionaires and space buffs alike.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Read a poem: Here’s “Come In,” by Robert Frost, first published in The Atlantic in 1941.

A break from the news:

Modern porn education is totally unprepared for modern porn.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.