By Jacob Rose
Representative Adriano Espaillat, the Democratic congressman who represents much of upper Manhattan and part of the northwest Bronx in New York’s 13th congressional district, tweeted Thursday morning that he had tested positive with COVID-19 after receiving a second vaccine dose “last week.”
The Rag spoke with Dr. David Buchholz, a general pediatrician and founding medical director for primary care at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, to make sense of Espaillat’s positive result as the vaccine rollout stumbles forward across the Upper West Side and the rest of New York.
“I received the second dose of the #COVID19vaccine last week and understand the affects take time,” Espaillat’s tweet reads. Espaillat tweeted a photo of himself receiving a first dose of the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine on December 19.
Today, I received the first of two shots of the #COVID19 vaccine upon the advice of the attending physician at the U.S. Capitol.
The vaccine is safe and effective, and I encourage everyone in my district & NYC to take it as it becomes widely available. pic.twitter.com/wKZTLjhk3G
— Adriano Espaillat (@RepEspaillat) December 19, 2020
Espaillat, who on Thursday said he was not experiencing any symptoms, had traveled from New York to Washington D.C. for Donald Trump’s impeachment vote—where he spoke—just prior to his positive result. He’s at least the fourth congressperson to test positive in the last week, after Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Bonnie Coleman (D-NJ), and Brad Schneider (D-IL) all tested positive, which they traced to being stuck in a “safe room” with unmasked Republican congress members during the mob attack on the Capitol. It’s unclear if Espaillat was in the safe room, but he did say in an interview with New York 1 around 4 p.m. that day — nearly 2 hours after the mob first entered Capitol building — that he had been in his office “all day.”
According to Dr. Buchholz, Congressman Espaillat may have just gotten unlucky. Two weeks after receiving a first dose, recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have between a 52 and 80 percent chance of receiving the vaccine’s “maximum benefit,” Buchholz said. Two weeks after a second dose, they are 95 percent likely to receive its maximum benefit. Since Espaillat tested positive less than two weeks after his second shot—before the vaccine can produce full protection—Buchholz says that he had somewhere between a 52 and 95 percent chance of receiving the vaccine’s maximum benefit. It appears that Espaillat just fell outside that fortunate majority.
Buchholz noted that 59 percent of people with COVID-19 “never show symptoms,” including among the small minority of people who do not get the vaccine’s maximum benefit. And even within that smaller group, it’s believed that those who have received the vaccine experience fewer symptoms than they would without it.
Buchholz did caution that once you’re immunized, you still may be able to spread COVID-19. “We don’t know, if you’re fully vaccinated and either get the disease or become positive but not have symptoms, if you can actually transmit it to another person. We don’t have that answer.”
In any case, Buchholz said, “We all have to wear masks, we all have to social distance, we all have to wash our hands. Because we could be that small percentage that didn’t get the response we were hoping for, and we have to continue to protect ourselves and others.”