Former county commissioner diagnosed with case of breakthrough COVID-19

Helen Price Johnson is crediting the vaccine for how mild her case has been.

Former Island County commissioner Helen Price Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 this month, and she’s crediting the vaccine for how mild her case has been.

Price Johnson was already fully vaccinated — meaning she had received the complete dosage of her chosen vaccine and waited for two weeks — before coming in contact with the person she suspects she caught the virus from, an unvaccinated minor who had been traveling out of state.

These “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases, or instances of a fully vaccinated person testing positive for the virus, are still rare occurrences. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told NPR Wednesday that the U.S. isn’t seeing breakthrough cases at a rate high enough to cast doubt on overall vaccine efficacy.

The CDC announced Tuesday that the highly communicable Delta variant represents 83 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., but Price Johnson said she doesn’t know whether her case was the variant.

Price Johnson expressed her gratitude that she had already received the vaccine when she was exposed to the virus.

“It’s so important to protect yourself with a vaccine, because my symptoms were very manageable at home. Because I was vaccinated, it really mitigated those symptoms for me,” she said.

Price Johnson compared the vaccine to a dimmer switch, as opposed to a toggle switch. It might not completely “turn off” the virus in vaccinated individuals, but it will significantly reduce the effects when breakthrough cases occur.

Because vaccinated individuals are also less likely to transmit the virus if they do get it, Price Johnson said she could rest a little easier knowing she likely hadn’t sloughed the disease off onto any of her loved ones.

Price Johnson, who is interim manager at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, said all her work colleagues she had seen in person isolated until they could be tested for COVID-19. All their tests came back negative.

“My life was not threatened, and I didn’t threaten the lives of those around me because I was fully vaccinated,” she said.

Price Johnson has been feeling well and is almost finished with her quarantine period. She said local public health officials were very helpful and responsive as she dealt with the virus.

She also said she intends to keep wearing a mask indoors until the spread slows down. COVID-19 variants are still transmitting rapidly, especially among unvaccinated communities, including vaccine hesitant individuals and children for whom the vaccine has not yet been approved.

“We should all be doing everything we can to reduce the spread,” she said.

In Island County, just 46.5 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated. Statewide, 52 percent of people are fully vaccinated.

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