Playing the odds
The odds of a vaccinated person getting sick with COVID-19 have changed since the more transmissible Delta variant came to dominate the U.S. pandemic, but probably not as much as you think, David Leonhardt writes in Tuesday's New York Times. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the "terrifying fact" that "vaccinated people with the Delta variant of the COVID virus carried roughly the same viral load in their noses and throats as unvaccinated people," but newer data "suggests the true picture is less alarming."
Statistics from Utah, Virginia, and King County (Seattle), Washington — three areas that report detailed data on COVID-19 infections by vaccination status — "are consistent with the idea that about 1 in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for COVID each day in recent weeks," Leonhardt writes, and in areas, like Seattle, with high vaccination rates, social distancing, and mask usage, the odds are "probably less than 1 in 10,000."
The risks aren't zero — as Axios' Felix Salmon notes, a 1-in-5,000 risk every day works out to about a 7 percent per year chance of getting sick from COVID-19. And Leonhardt waves off the undiagnosed breakthrough cases, because they are "are often so mild that people do not notice them and do not pass the virus to anyone else."
But the reality is that "the risks of getting any version of the virus remain small for the vaccinated, and the risks of getting badly sick remain minuscule," Leonhardt writes. "In Seattle on an average recent day, about one out of every one million vaccinated residents have been admitted to a hospital with COVID symptoms. That risk is so close to zero that the human mind can't easily process it. My best attempt is to say that the COVID risks for most vaccinated people are of the same order of magnitude as risks that people unthinkingly accept every day, like riding in a vehicle."
You can read Leonhardt's entire case — and his explanation about why viral load "can end up being irrelevant" if you're vaccinated — at The New York Times.