Vaccinated Father Contracts COVID

Vaccine Prevents Severe Illness But Reminds Us that Transmission Still Possible

A masked man displays his CDC "I'm vaccinated" pin. File.

Tim Rutherford* wouldn’t have bothered to test himself if his daughter hadn’t tested positive first.

Even that was precautionary; Rutherford (an alias) told the Hill Rag that his elementary-aged daughter was robust and healthy.

The family was still exercising caution in their daily lives, although both parents were fully-vaccinated. All were wearing masks in public where they couldn’t socially-distance; their daughter didn’t even go into grocery stores. Dining, they always did outdoors when they treated themselves.

They had been planning to visit Rutherford’s mother in Boston, where she was undergoing chemotherapy. Both Rutherford and his wife are fully vaccinated and they didn’t think it likely that their daughter had been exposed. But still, they popped up to Same Day Testing in Georgetown to get her a one-day test before they left.

They expected to get results within 24 hours, on the Monday, but despite follow-up, Rutherford said they didn’t hear back until Thursday, four days later.

Rutherford couldn’t wait. When they didn’t hear back on Monday, they had their daughter tested again on the way. The next day, they were visiting with relatives in Boston when Rutherford got the results from that test via email.

Rutherford never saw his mother. He packed up his family and headed back to DC where he and his wife had a test. His wife tested negative. Rutherford, who had the second shot of his Pfizer vaccine in mid-April, was not so lucky.

“I was fully vaccinated, so I wouldn’t have known I had COVID if my daughter hadn’t tested positive –at least not until I had symptoms,” Rutherford said. By then, he could already have been to visit his mother, vaccinated but with immunity compromised by ongoing chemotherapy. “There’s really no guarantee you’re not carrying it and spreading it to someone more vulnerable,” he said.

This could be happening more than we realize, said Dr. Tina Q. Tan. Dr. Tan is Medical Director, International Patient Services Program Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and a Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dr. Tina Tan, professor of pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the board of directors of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Courtesy: Dr. T. Tan

“I don’t think we know how common this is, because vaccinated people don’t as often get tested,” said Dr. Tan. “But it is known to happen. The vaccines are very effective at preventing death and hospitalization, and even severe symptoms. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot contract COVID.”

Vaccinated people who are infected can also transmit the disease, Dr. Tan adds. It’s possible that people who haven’t waited two full weeks would not develop full immunity.

“I think the relaxing of the mask mandates has contributed to some of this, because you’re relying on people’s honor that they’re vaccinated. We know that 50 percent of people in the US are vaccinated, but obviously that changes depending on where you live.”

Rutherford’s office has now divided into cohorts. Employees with children or unvaccinated people in the household come in on different days than those without.

This is a good idea for a small office, Dr. Tan said. A larger office might have difficulty ascertaining vaccination statusfor multiple reasons. Another way to create cohorts is to combine those employees living with immuno-compromised people and also group those who do not.

Tan says testing overall is a good idea, but she said that many people are increasing relying on rapid testing, which is less accurate than PCR testing. Testing will indicate that people should isolate, Tan added, but isn’t a preventative measure, especially if they don’t.

Tan said that the more effective tactic would be to rely on measures that prevent disease: masking indoors and where social distancing is impossible and on good hand-washing, especially for unvaccinated people such as children. But the key is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Read: Expert Opinion: What Activities are Safe for Your Unvaccinated Child?

A father and daughter dine outdoors at Tunnicliffs in May, 2021. Dr. Tan said for kids too young to be vaccinated, dining outdoors with kids is safest. E.O’Gorek/CCN

Some areas are starting to see COVID cases go up. The Delta variant is starting to account for 50 to 80 percent of cases in some areas, which is far more contagious. In response, some jurisdictions, such as Mississippi and Los Angeles, have reinstated mask mandates. The Washington Post reported that  City Administrator Kevin Donahue told a July 2nd meeting of DC Council that the city had no plans to do so at that time.

If COVID is circulating in the community at higher rates, the infected individuals can potentially transmit the disease to the children, Tan said. “Where there are low rates of COVID in the community, young children are “cocooned” by vaccinated individuals around them reducing their risk –as long as they stay in that little cocoon,” Tan said.

“But if you’re sending them to summer camp or to these activities where most of the kids are too young to be vaccinated and maybe some of the adults are not vaccinated –then that’s a problem.” That puts the child at higher risk of contracting the disease, Dr. Tan said, and for transmitting it back to the community, potentially penetrating the cocoon.

Vaccinated people could then become sick, possibly unknowingly, and at best trigger a quarantine at work or school and at worst, potentially spread the disease to vulnerable groups such as children or the immuno-compromised.

Rutherford said given the family’s caution, he isn’t sure where his child contracted the disease. He even wonders if she got it from him. He said he is personally of the mind that it makes sense for everyone to mask in most shared indoor spaces, although he knows the CDC guidance is different.

“It’s so easy to do for me –and for most people,” he said, “and it is such a simple step to hopefully avoid getting it yourself and making others sick.”

For the family, the main takeaway is that despite CDC guidelines and people desperately wanting to move on from COVID-19, it is still very much with us. Rutherford said the community still has to be vigilent to protect ourselves, especially kids under 12 who can’t be vaccinated yet.

His is a classic cautionary tale, Rutherford acknowledges. “But cautionary tales happen to someone else. This happened to us.”

The Hill Rag has reached out to Same Day Testing for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.