Fully vaccinated against Covid-19? Attending an outdoor wedding? Absolutely nothing to worry about, right?
That would be wrong, wrong as a bathroom gong.
A pre-print uploaded to MedRxiv described a Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak involving the Delta variant at an outdoor wedding near Houston, Texas. The outbreak, which occurred in April, showed that while the available Covid-19 vaccines can offer good protection against Covid-19, the protection is not perfect. As long as the pandemic is continuing, it is better to maintain multiple layers of Covid-19 precautions when you can.
The wedding took place outdoors in a large open-air tent. The wedding had 92 attendees, all of whom were required to have been fully vaccinated prior to the event. The first to get sick were a man and woman who had traveled from India. The man had had no existing medical problems and the woman had diabetes. Both had tested negative for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) prior to boarding the airplane and had traveled to Houston 10 days after receiving their second doses of the Covaxin BBV152 vaccine, manufactured by Bharat Biotech.
Although the woman had felt some fatigue during the first night of the wedding, she attributed them to diabetes and jet lag. However, both the man and the women ended up developing symptoms a few days after the wedding and then tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 four days after the wedding. By Day Six after the wedding, the man was hospitalized, where his condition continued to worsen. Sadly, he eventually died a month after the wedding.
Four other guests who had interacted with the man and the woman ended up testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 too. Two of these guests had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 mRNA vaccine and two with the Moderna Covid-19 mRNA vaccine. One of the guests who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was a male in his 60’s who had no existing medical conditions. He ended up developing severe symptoms, had to get admitted to the Baylor St. Luke’s Hospital, and received the Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion treatment. Besides the two wedding attendees who got hospitalized, it isn’t clear from the pre-print what exactly happened to the other four wedding attendees who had developed symptoms.
This is not to say that the Covid-19 vaccines didn’t help. The outbreak could haven been even worse had people not been vaccinated. Six out of 92 is still only about 6.5% of all the attendees.
Of course, a pre-print is not the same as a peer-reviewed publication in a respectable scientific journal. The authors of the pre-print (Timothy Farinholt, Harsha Doddapaneni, Xiang Qin, Vipin Menon, Qinchang Meng, Ginger Metcalf, Hsu Chao, Marie-Claude Gingras, Paige Farinholt, Charu Agrawal, Donna M. Muzny, Pedro A. Piedra, Richard A. Gibbs, Joseph Petrosino) were from the Baylor College of Medicine, which is certainly a well-established medical institution. However, anyone who has computer and Internet skills better than the average squirrel can upload a manuscript on to MedRxiv. Note that I said average squirrel and not all squirrels. Moreover, this is not to imply that anyone on the Baylor College of Medicine team was a squirrel. That could be nuts. Regardless, take everything written in this pre-print with a fanny pack of salt until it undergoes proper peer-review.
Nonetheless, an outbreak is an outbreak. And the account of this outbreak is not surprising. This wedding outbreak would be further evidence that while the vaccines can offer good protection against Covid-19, they are not perfect. They are not like concrete full-body condoms. They do not offer 100% protection. You can still get infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Similarly, while holding a gathering outdoors may further reduce your risk of getting infected or passing along the virus, it can only protect you so much. The Covid-19 coronavirus is not like a vampire. It doesn’t burst into flames in the sunlight. The outdoors can help reduce transmission risk because the wind can be like a gigantic fan.
Keep in mind though that outdoor conditions can vary quite substantially. If someone were to tell you, “let’s go to an outdoor location in our bikini and mankini,” you’d have additional questions, such as what exactly are the conditions and please describe the mankini further. Similarly, just because an event is outdoors doesn’t mean that it is safe. For example, there’s a difference between being outdoors in relatively still air versus being in a NASA wind tunnel or a tornado. When someone tells you that an gathering will be outdoors, ask for more details. Seeing words like “NASA wind tunnel” or “tornado” in the “Location” portion of the wedding invitation can offer more assurance that the conditions will be safer from a Covid-19 perspective. However, such conditions could play havoc during the tossing the wedding garter and bouquet. Someone in the next state over can end up catching them.
As long as the pandemic is still going on and the Covid-19 coronavirus is still spreading, it is better to layer on multiple interventions at a time. Think about it. You don’t tend to ask: “should I wear underwear or some pants to the job interview while it is snowing?” The answer is usually “wear both at the same time” unless you are interviewing for the movie Commando but misread the job advertisement. Multiple layers of protection are necessary when each single layer has holes, when no single layer is enough.
So if you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, great, your chances of developing more severe Covid-19 are a lot less. They are not zero though. Your risk still depends on whether people around you are fully vaccinated.
If everyone else around you is fully vaccinated as well, great, that reduces your chances of catching the Covid-19 coronavirus even further. The risk is still not zero though. Your risk still depends on what you happen to be doing with the other people. For example, a game of Twister may not be a great idea. A game of Twister in a dungeon may be an even worse idea. The outdoors, in general, would in general be better than the indoors. But even when outdoors, know the actual conditions and maintain whatever precautions seem reasonable such as keeping your distance when you can.