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How different are COVID-19 symptoms for vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people?

In San Diego County, the latest numbers show breakthrough cases total 6.7% of all recorded COVID cases since March.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The term breakout case is used to describe a vaccinated person who gets COVID-19.

In San Diego County, the most recent numbers show breakout cases make up 6.7% of all COVID-19 cases recorded since March.

But are the symptoms different for someone who is vaccinated versus someone who is not?

To answer that question, News 8 checked with:

-Dr. Jyotu Sandhu, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy

-the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

- and the Zoe COVID Study

According to Dr. Sandhu, the symptoms for a vaccinated person vs. an unvaccinated person can be different, but not always.

"Everyone reacts differently to infections. Some people may have certain symptoms while other people have other symptoms."

For those who are vaccinated, the symptoms do tend to be milder.

In regards to specific symptoms, the Zoe COVID Study compiled data from more than a million people, and came up with two lists showing the top five covid symptoms for each.

For the fully-vaccinated:

1. Headache
2. Runny nose
3. Sneezing
4. Sore throat
5. Loss of smell

For the unvaccinated:

1. Headache
2. Sore throat
3. Runny nose
4. Fever
5. Persistent cough

You'll notice some differences between the two.

For example, for the vaccinated, a persistent cough isn't listed as a top five symptom.

It is however for the unvaccinated, yet you don't see a loss of smell or sneezing.

Those are also symptoms, just not among the top five.

And those lists are not absolute.

Researchers behind the study noted as new variants emerge, symptoms have changed as well.

One man, who did not want to be identified, told News 8, he’s fully vaccinated, and is currently recovering from COVID.

“It just started to be more congestion," he said.

Initially, he thought he had allergies.

No headache, but later, his symptoms ranged from a low-grade fever, to sneezing, and losing his sense of taste.

"Yeah, it was interesting because Thursday I was cooking a pot of chili and I could smell it when I was making it, and I went to taste it and all of a sudden I had no taste," he said.

Can you easily tell the difference between COVID and the common flu or cold?


This is something scientists all over the world continue to research.

According to the CDC, "because some of the symptoms of flu, Covid-19, and other respiratory illnesses are similar, the difference between them cannot be made based on symptoms alone. Testing is needed to tell what the illness is and to confirm a diagnosis."

COVID tests are easy to access.

But, if you're still unsure about whether or not to get tested for COVID, the best advice say experts is to ask your doctor.

"A mild symptom such as just a stuffy nose could be COVID for you but it may not be COVID for anybody else, and so once we have any types of symptoms, we have to be vigilant," said Dr. Sandhu.

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