I'm vaccinated. What's my actual risk of getting COVID-19?

September 14, 2021

In July, the CDC reported that vaccinated people with COVID-19 carried about the same viral load in their noses and throats as unvaccinated people, suggesting that even the vaccinated are at high risk of getting infected and transmitting the virus to others. Indeed, breakthrough infections do occur; however, a newer CDC study conducted in Los Angeles County, California, shows that vaccinated people are five times less likely to become infected and 30 times less likely to become hospitalized than unvaccinated people. 

“The CDC’s latest report shows that unvaccinated people with COVID-19 are nearly 30 times more likely to end up hospitalized as vaccinated people with a breakthrough infection,” says Elizabeth McGraw, head of the Department of Biology, Penn State. “The take-home message from this study is that vaccines are highly protective against serious illness. If you are vaccinated and wearing a mask inside public places, as the CDC recommends, you should feel safe and also confident that you are protecting those around you.”

McGraw notes that the risk of infection for vaccinated people is even lower if they live in a community with high vaccine uptake.

“Breakthrough infections occur more frequently in regions where vaccine uptake is lower in the general population,” McGraw says. “At the Penn State University Park campus, vaccination rates are nearly 88.9% for students living on campus, 94.4% for faculty and 83.3% for nonunion staff. This is impressive, but I would encourage those students and employees who have not yet been vaccinated to do their part to help protect our entire community.”

Last Updated September 15, 2021