COVID-19 breakthrough / re-infection: a personal tale

Posted on 30 November 2021 in Personal

I'm just recovering from (PCR-confirmed) covid after (I believe) having had it in 2020, and having been double-jabbed with AstraZeneca over the course of the last year. I'm completely fine, and listening to people moaning about their health is rather dull, so I won't bore you by posting at length here. But a number of people I know were really surprised to hear about it, thinking that re-infection and breakthrough infections were rare. Given that I, my partner Sara, and a close friend have all had it again (PCR tested in each case) over the last month, it seems that it might be more common than generally suspected -- so I figured that a first-person account might be of some interest.

The background: in March 2020 Sara and I had a bug that we think was covid -- horrible respiratory illness, shortness of breath, big drops in SpO2. At the time there were no tests available outside ICUs in the UK, and after a rough couple of weeks we got better. A close contact tested positive for antibodies shortly thereafter, so we're pretty sure we know where we got it from.

Over the spring/summer this year we, like everyone else here in the UK, were able to get vaccinated -- in our age group, the default vaccine was AstraZeneca.

Then, last week, I got ill and it turned out to be covid again, and then Sara got it too. We're both recovering nicely.

Symptoms were what doctors would call "mild" and anyone else would call "bloody awful but far from life-threatening". Think of the worst cold that you've had over the last ten years (not flu), and then imagine the symptoms from the worst day of that cold going full blast for a week -- aches, snot, pains, snot, mild fever, snot, cough, snot, and snot. Plus snot. No breathing problems (unlike last time around), though a bit of pain in the lungs -- again, just like a terrible cold. With, and I feel I should mention this, lots of snot. If you're going to stockpile anything at this late point in the pandemic, I recommend tissues. (Lemsip also helps.)

The cold-like symptoms were actually quite problematic, because of course I just assumed that it was a terrible cold, and probably spread it around due to not self-isolating as quickly as I should have -- I started feeling a bit rough on Sunday, got worse Monday and Tuesday, and it was only Wednesday evening that I felt it had been going on a bit and did a lateral flow test. PCR confirmed in a test on Friday. The plus side was that I felt rough enough that I didn't go out anyway.

It's also worth noting that I'd done another PCR on the Friday before I started feeling unwell, and that came back negative -- plus negative lateral flows earlier on that week. So: tests, at least in my case, did not give an early warning of infection.

I've heard from friends on Facebook that they also know people who've had it recently, all double-jabbed over the summer. This is all UK-based, and the people in question are mostly in their 40s -- so perhaps we're seeing a waning of the protection from the AstraZeneca jab? Not great if so; that's less than five months after the second dose for me.

Or, of course, it could be the omicron variant. Seems unlikely, though -- while I'm sure that variant is in the UK, it seems very unlikely to be widespread enough that me and my friends specifically would be hit.

Well, anyway, that's it. All anecdotal, but as the Less Wrong types would put it, you might want to consider increasing your priors as to the likelihood of reinfection and breakthrough infections of covid, especially for those vaccinated using AZ. Given that -- for us at least -- this time around has been less horrible than 2020's version, it's possible that the vaccines -- or pre-existing natural immune response -- may have made it milder, though.

Stay safe out there!