Fact or Fiction: Can you still be a carrier of COVID-19, even if you’re vaccinated?

PITTSBURGH — With so many people racing to get the COVID vaccine, a lot of questions are surfacing on what to do after you get it:

  • Why do you still have to wear a mask?
  • Can you still be a carrier after you get the vaccine?
  • Does the vaccine protect you against other viruses, like the flu?

11 investigates Angie Moreschi clears up the confusion in our latest FACT/FICTION report.

What protection do you get exactly?

We’ve heard a lot about the protection you get from the COVID vaccine, but what does that really mean?

>>RELATED HEADLINE: Fact vs. Fiction: COVID-19 vaccine side effects and why some are hesitant to get it

Most importantly, it gives you protection from serious illness and having to be hospitalized. It also helps to prevent you from having symptoms and feeling sick.  But does it prevent you from getting the virus and spreading it, or can you still be a carrier?

“We know the least about this, but the preliminary data that we have suggests that all three vaccines offer some protection, but aren’t perfect, and I wouldn’t expect them to be. So they may have a 60 or 70 percent chance of protecting you from being contagious,” said UPMC’S Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Graham Snyder.

So, you can still be a carrier, but the vaccines do appear to be about two-thirds effective in preventing you from spreading COVID.

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Why do you still have to wear a mask?

A lot of the guidance we hear about life after getting the vaccine is to act like you didn’t get it.

We’ve been told to keep wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing, just like before. So you might be wondering why you have to do that if you’re protected.

Experts say it’s not as much for your benefit, but to protect those around you who are not vaccinated or have pre-existing conditions.  Because after you get the vaccine, you can still be infected by COVID, but are much less likely to have symptoms. So, you could be infected, but might not realize it.

Even so, Dr. Snyder says we should not have to keep wearing masks indefinitely.

“We’ll make incremental changes to that as we go,” he said. “But have to take it stepwise, because the pandemic isn’t over, and it might very well get worse and get worse soon. So, if we stop masking and distancing entirely, it will get worse.”

As more people get the vaccine and herd immunity grows-- the Centers for Disease Control is easing up on post-vaccine guidance. The latest update says it’s okay to interact with others without a mask and social distancing--  if you’ve all been fully vaccinated..

Protection against other viruses?

Does the COVID vaccine also give you protection against other viruses, like the flu?

“That, unfortunately, is fiction,” Dr. Snyder said.  “The vaccine is very specific to this Coronavirus and are actually a family of Coronavirus but this vaccine is probably specific to this one because it trains our body to recognize this virus specifically, and it trains our body to recognize the proteins that this virus makes. So it gives our body powerful protection against it but it’s very specific protection.”