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I was just about to head to the gym four Saturdays ago when I received an unwelcome — and unexpected — piece of news.
“Your sister’s just tested positive for COVID,” my dad told me.
I nearly dropped my phone.
At first, I thought maybe I’d heard wrong. Like the rest of my immediate family, my sister was fully vaccinated; she’d received the Pfizer vaccine last spring. She’s also among the most COVID-conscious people I know. She cares for a months-old baby who can’t yet get the shot.
“Your sister’s got COVID,” my dad repeated.
I could feel the blood draining from my face. I’d just spent a couple of days with her earlier that week; in fact, my entire family had — and what about Baby Lou, the most vulnerable among us all?
I didn’t go to the gym that day — or the rest of that week. But this isn’t a story of yet another time in which the vaccine didn’t work; it’s a story of a time it did. We hear so much from friends, family and the media about all these times the vaccines failed to prevent COVID-19 breakthrough infections. In the face of all this, it’s easy to lose sight of how effective the vaccines really are — and how they actually protect us.
Vaccines protect most of us from infection, but even if they don’t, that doesn’t mean they’re not working. It just means they’re working in a different way — by reducing your symptoms, keeping you out of the hospital or perhaps even keeping you alive.
My sister, her husband, Baby Lou and a stowaway virus flew into the Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Aug. 24, after a weeks-long trip to the United Kingdom. They’d gone to bring Baby Lou to meet her other grandparents in Scotland and to attend a wedding in England.
Both tested negative before boarding the plane. My family and I had, too, so when they arrived in North Carolina for a short visit, we didn’t think twice about unmasking, hugging and carrying on. But three days later, one after she’d returned to the west coast, she took an at-home rapid antigen test — and much to her shock, it came back positive.
As it turned out, the groom at the wedding they’d attended the week before had contracted COVID and hadn’t even known it. She probably wouldn’t have either if she hadn’t taken a test on a whim.
We were all but certain she’d caught the Delta variant, which we knew even vaccinated people could spread. So, we decided to get tested — especially after most of us began to manifest “symptoms.”
Suspiciously, mine began the day I found out I’d been exposed, which should have tipped me off, but I still managed to convince myself that I’d been infected — headache, cough, etc. No fatigue, though my mom felt tired and she’d spent the most time with my sister out of all of us.
My sister’s husband tested negative first. Then Baby Lou. After inconclusive antigen test results, both of my parents tested negative — twice — on a PCR test, but not before they had to cancel the international trip they’d been looking forward to for months. By the end of the week, my brother and I tested negative, too.
Out of six adults and an unvaccinated baby, only my sister tested positive for COVID-19. That’s pretty darn good.
Magically, my “symptoms” dissipated within hours of receiving my results. Placebo effect? Maybe. My body fighting off the infection? Lord, I hope so. Ending up with Delta antibodies on top of the original vaccine would feel like an early Christmas present.
The vaccine worked for me. It worked for my family. It even worked for my sister — besides a few sniffles and fatigue, she had few symptoms and tested negative for COVID just a week later. Vaccines will work — or perhaps have worked — for you, too, in one way or another. Sometimes, it just comes down to a matter of perspective.