A breakthrough case is an instance in which a person becomes sick with a disease despite having received the vaccine for that disease. In other words, the vaccine fails to prevent the person from becoming infected. To be clear: In breakthrough cases (and in general), the infection doesn’t come from the vaccine—the person becomes infected (through one of the usual routes) despite the presence of the vaccine in the body. Awareness and use of the term breakthrough case increased dramatically in 2021 amid reports of breakthrough cases of the COVID-19 virus. In particular, the rapid spread of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 led to an increase in reported breakthrough cases. Please note: No vaccine is 100% effective, but breakthrough cases are extremely rare. In the US, breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are reported to have occurred in less than 1% of all those vaccinated—as low as .01% in some studies. And breakthrough cases among people vaccinated for COVID-19 are reported to be less severe and less likely to require hospitalization. The term breakthrough case is sometimes used to refer to the person who becomes infected, as in I’m a breakthrough case, but my symptoms are very mild. A breakthrough case may sometimes be called a breakthrough infection, though that term is also used in a more specific way (typically among medical professionals) to refer to an instance of a vaccinated person becoming infected regardless of whether they actually get sick (in this sense, a breakthrough infection is considered milder than a breakthrough case). The term breakthrough disease most often refers to a sickness that happens despite any type of medical treatment or prevention, not just vaccination. A breakthrough case is sometimes called a breakthrough for short. The word breakthrough is also used more generally to refer to any illness or condition that manages to thwart prevention or treatment. To learn more about breakthrough cases, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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