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Just 'grateful' to be vaccinated: An Austin musician's experience with a breakthrough COVID infection

Kate Howard
Michael Minasi
Even though she was fully vaccinated in the spring, Austin musician Kate Howard contracted COVID-19.

In late June, Austin musician Kate Howard was getting ready for the July 6 release party for her debut record when she started to feel run down.

She developed a cough. At first, she thought it was just allergies, but then a friend she had seen a few days before contacted her to say he had COVID.

“It was a five-minute conversation across the table with a friend of mine who had been vaccinated,” Howard said. “He had been complaining about allergies that day. He'd had a sore throat and was coughing and sneezing and such.”

Howard wasn’t worried. After all, they were both vaccinated.

She took a COVID test anyway, and it came back negative. She was told it was too soon after her exposure for the result to be reliable, so she should redo the test a few days later.

But before she took that second test, she woke up with chills and a fever.

Then her test came back positive; she had caught a breakthrough COVID infection.

She canceled her record release party.

What followed were two weeks of illness.

“It was mostly like a head cold, body aches, fever, that sort of thing, GI trouble,” Howard said. “But then, toward the end, I realized that I couldn't smell or taste anything.”

It’s hard to know how many people in the U.S. have had breakthrough COVID infections; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks only those infections that lead to hospitalizations or death. As of Oct. 1, more than 189 million Americans were fully vaccinated against the virus. During that same time, 41,127 vaccinated people were hospitalized or died of COVID. So even if vaccinated people catch the virus, they have a low chance of being hospitalized or dying — a fact that eased Howard’s fears when she was sick.

At one point Howard felt like she might have to go to the hospital. She was having trouble staying hydrated because of GI issues.

“I was really concerned about what might happen,” she said. “But given that I had had the vaccine, I knew that the chances of anything going terribly wrong were pretty slim. So for the most part, I was just grateful for having had the vaccine.”

Howard said she’s now considering gigs on a case-by-case basis. She underwent surgery for cervical dystonia in 2019. And even though she doesn’t consider herself immunocompromised, she does still have to be careful.

“I have to look out for myself because I have electrodes in my brain and I have a neurostimulator in my abdomen,” she said, “so I need to make sure that I'm in good health.”

You can hear Howard's story, along with other stories from people trying to navigate the pandemic, by hitting the listen button above or tuning in Wednesday at 10 p.m. when KUT airs the Pause/Play episode “What Do We Do Now?"

Subscribe to Pause/Play on Apple PodcastsSpotifyNPROne or wherever you get your podcasts.

Elizabeth McQueen is an audio producer and podcast host at KUTX 98.9, Austin’s NPR music station.
Miles Bloxson is a producer and host for KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.
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