Shedding of infectious SARS-CoV-2 despite vaccination

PLoS Pathog. 2022 Sep 30;18(9):e1010876. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010876. eCollection 2022 Sep.


The SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant of Concern is highly transmissible and contains mutations that confer partial immune escape. The emergence of Delta in North America caused the first surge in COVID-19 cases after SARS-CoV-2 vaccines became widely available. To determine whether individuals infected despite vaccination might be capable of transmitting SARS-CoV-2, we compared RT-PCR cycle threshold (Ct) data from 20,431 test-positive anterior nasal swab specimens from fully vaccinated (n = 9,347) or unvaccinated (n = 11,084) individuals tested at a single commercial laboratory during the interval 28 June- 1 December 2021 when Delta variants were predominant. We observed no significant effect of vaccine status alone on Ct value, nor when controlling for vaccine product or sex. Testing a subset of low-Ct (<25) samples, we detected infectious virus at similar rates, and at similar titers, in specimens from vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. These data indicate that vaccinated individuals infected with Delta variants are capable of shedding infectious SARS-CoV-2 and could play a role in spreading COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Vaccination
  • Viral Vaccines*


  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • Viral Vaccines

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants