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Immunity after the COVID-19 Vaccine

As of May 14, 2021, over 35 percent of the United States has been fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the CDC recently announced fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities that they did before the pandemic without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, including local business and workplace guidance.  

While these numbers and updates are encouraging (and climbing every day!), there are still a lot of questions about how the vaccine can help end the pandemic, how variants could affect vaccination effectiveness, and whether or not we’ll still need regular COVID-19 testing. 

We’ve got you covered with all the answers for your most urgent health questions, from how to tell if your vaccine is working, to whether you’ll need a COVID-19 test after your vaccine. 

Need answers to other COVID-19-related questions? We recently covered the COVID-19 vaccine (and whether we’ll still need testing) on the first two episodes of the empowered podcast.

COVID-19 and Herd Immunity

What does it take to achieve herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2?

There is no magic number to mark when the United States achieves herd immunity, so we don’t know what it will take to achieve it. Ultimately, herd immunity will depend on the emergence of variants, how effective the vaccine is, and how many people ultimately get vaccinated. 

If we can’t achieve herd immunity, should we continue routine testing for COVID-19?

We should not assume that herd immunity is achieved, even once cases drop dramatically. There have been many outbreaks of diseases like mumps and measles, which were thought to be controlled by herd immunity and vaccination. By continuing routine testing for COVID-19, we can rapidly identify and address potential outbreaks before they get out of control. This is particularly important given the risk of virus variants that could work around the vaccine.

Should people continue to get COVID-19 testing after the vaccine is widespread in the US?

Yes. Even after the vaccine becomes more widely available, COVID-19 remains a major health concern worldwide. While we can be optimistic about the vaccine, it’s important to remain vigilant since we don’t know how long the vaccine will remain effective, or what variants might emerge. It is also important to remember the vaccine is protection, but not guaranteed immunity.

PCR Testing

What’s the value of continued PCR testing vs. rapid antigen testing?

Both testing methods are valuable in the right setting, but PCR is superior to rapid antigen testing since it is more sensitive, specific, and is considered the gold standard of testing. PCR testing is also a much better screening test for asymptomatic individuals. Rapid antigen testing can be useful in situations deemed appropriate by medical authorities.

Can the COVID-19 vaccine result in a positive PCR test?

If you’ve received the vaccine, you won’t test positive for COVID-19 as a result. If you do get a positive COVID-19 test after being vaccinated, you should assume that it’s a true positive and that you’re currently infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Do current PCR tests work on the SARS-CoV-2 variants, or will our labs need to develop a new COVID-19 PCR test for each variant?

Current PCR tests work for variants, and some labs actually identify specific variants (such as the UK strain).

Antibodies & COVID-19 Vaccination

How do we make sure we have immunity against COVID-19 post infection or after getting the vaccine?

While we do not have a test for immunity or know how to specifically measure immunity to COVID-19, we can use IgG antibody testing to assess your immune system response to the vaccine.

Is IgG testing recommended after getting vaccinated? 

Yes, it’s important to track your immune system’s response to the vaccine. This information will likely prove valuable once we learn more about immunity and vaccination. The waiting interval needed can depend on several factors, but according to the CDC, most people will develop enough antibodies for immunity within a few weeks. 

Can point-of-care COVID-19 IgG antibody tests show if the vaccine is working?

Only antibody tests that test for the S or Spike Protein can assess response to vaccination. Many antibody tests on the market today look for viral proteins that are not in the COVID-19 vaccine. These tests will often mislead people after vaccination and lead them to incorrectly think that their immune system did not respond to vaccination.

Are the current vaccines effective against these new variants?

Yes, though the efficacy may not be as strong as with the initial strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

How long do you expect the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine-induced IgG antibody levels to last?

Scientists aren’t sure how long the COVID-19 vaccine will remain effective, so further study is needed. It’s likely that detectable antibody levels will vary from person to person.  

Ultimately, COVID-19 testing remains a critical part of ending the pandemic, even as vaccination becomes available to everyone. By ordering your COVID-19 test today, you can be a part of the solution as we move forward in the fight against COVID-19. 

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