Should vaccinated individuals get tested for coronavirus if they are experiencing COVID symptoms?
Yes, according to Chicago experts.
During a Facebook Live Tuesday with Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, Dr. Isaac Ghinai, an epidemic intelligence service officer, said that while vaccinated individuals do not require COVID testing as often as non-vaccinated people, those with symptoms should still get tested.
"So if you're fully vaccinated and you come into contact with somebody who has COVID, everybody else has to quarantine and get tested during that quarantine period," Ghinai said. "But if you're fully vaccinated, you don't have to do that. So that's kind of nice... unless you develop symptoms. And that's, I think, an important point to bring out, especially as we, you know - we're not there yet, we're just enjoying summer - but as we start to head into the cooler weather where there's, you know, more of those respiratory viruses coming around."
Ghinai said even some of the smaller symptoms could indicate a test is necessary.
"So we say anybody with symptoms, that's the most important group of people to test, if you have any symptoms of possible COVID, whether it's even just a mild cough, you know, any of those kinds of mild symptoms, we would still recommend COVID testing," he said.
According to Ghinai, the testing recommendation will likely continue for several months even as coronavirus cases decline.
"Everybody with symptoms should still be tested for COVID until, you know, well into next year, I think because it's still going to be around even if we suppress those numbers really low," he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also continues to recommend vaccinated people with symptoms get tested for COVID.
Cases of fully vaccinated individuals contracting coronavirus are rare, but possible.
Of the 5.2 million people vaccinated in Illinois, 243 people have been hospitalized with coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Another 81 have died of complications due to the virus.
Chicago's top doctor said in early May that the city's rate of infection post-vaccination was low, with 0.06% of fully vaccinated people contracting the virus.
"We've had more than 700,000 Chicagoans that are have a completed vaccine series - two weeks post their second dose, or two weeks post their first dose if they got J&J," Arwady said. "And at this point we've identified fewer than 500 breakthrough cases so that's, you know, 0.06% of those who had a completed series."
She noted that a majority of the cases were asymptomatic, but as of May 5, the city had seen 48 people hospitalized with COVID-19 post-vaccination and a total of five deaths.
"We're still looking at the cause of some of these, but I can tell you folks mostly were older, no surprise," Arwady said at the time.
While the vaccine itself cannot give you the virus, it is also not 100% effective at preventing the virus entirely, though those who receive the vaccine are far less likely to be hospitalized or die from it, data shows.
According to the CDC, data from a multistate network of U.S. hospitals from January through March, showed the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were 94% effective against COVID-19 hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults and 64% effective among partially vaccinated adults 65 years and older.
The CDC reports J&J/Janssen vaccine was 66.3% effective in clinical trials at preventing COVID-19 illness in people who had no evidence of prior infection 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine.
Health experts have expressed concern about new and emerging variants of the virus, though studies have shown the current vaccines provide protection against known variants so far.
According to Arwady, however, data has so far not pointed to variants being responsible for a majority of breakthrough cases in Chicago.
Still, boosters and new versions of vaccines that target the variants are already being explored.
The recent death of a suburban Chicago father with leukemia, who contracted COVID despite being fully-vaccinated, has raised some questions about vaccine efficacy in immunosuppressed individuals.
Current CDC guidelines indicate those with compromised immune systems should receive the vaccine, however, they should "be aware of the potential for reduced immune responses to the vaccine."
"I think there's still ongoing work about you know how well it works in people who are immunocompromised, but I think it's an important thing to still be vaccinated because you're still getting, you know, some level of protection from that vaccination," Dr. Candice Robinson, medical director for CDPH, said in a Facebook Live last month.
Arwady acknowledged cases where some immunocompromised individuals have shown lower antibody levels post-vaccination, but said the vaccine could still provide some level of protection that would benefit those people.
"It's not that there's a problem with someone who is immunocompromised getting vaccinated. Usually, you know, like Dr. Robinson said, you 100% should get vaccinated, but there may be in people who, you know, are immunocompromised, and especially more severely immunocompromised... you may not get as high a level of protection," Arwady said. "So it's definitely been seen and for people who are seriously immunosuppressed it's a discussion you should have with your doctor."