RICHMOND, Va. — Health experts say the vaccine is the strongest defense against Coronavirus, but — as one vaccinated woman learned the hard way — it doesn't mean people should stop taking safety precautions.
Meghan Rayhill, 23, recently loosened up on her strict way of living after becoming fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I shared a drink with my roommate, and my words exactly were like, 'Here, have a sip of this. I'm vaccinated,'" she recalled. "I was even planning on going to a music festival in May."
The senior caregiver received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in early February and hoped for a return to normalcy.
"I work very closely with an 88-year-old woman, which is how I got qualified," Rayhill said.
However, nearly seven weeks after her second shot, Rayhill started to feel ill. At first, she brushed it off as a cold or exhaustion, but later received a shocking diagnosis: She tested positive for COVID-19.
"I literally said to the doctor ,'Are you kidding?'" Rayhill said. "I kind of felt like I was in the twilight zone. I was like, 'Wait, what? I thought I was protected.'"
Rayhill said she experienced almost every common symptom associated with the virus.
"I had body aches and a horrible headache," she said. "This disease really affects you from head to toe. It's crazy."
Rayhill said she was exposed to COVID-19 through her roommate, who tested positive several days before she did.
According to CDC guidelines, those who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after an exposure if they are asymptomatic. However, Rayhill said she didn't notice symptoms until a couple days following exposure.
Rayhill expressed confusion about the guidance considering she could potentially transmit the virus.
"What surprises me the most is the doctor said I can spread it to other people," Rayhill said.
Dr. Melissa Viray, Deputy Director of the Richmond-Henrico Health Districts said the CDC guidance is in place to help people balance risks.
"We're still gathering evidence on how well the vaccine works for asymptomatic or no symptoms disease infection and how it works for preventing transmission," Viray said. "So, there's more to come."
Viray said researchers are still working to figure out the vaccine's efficacy when it comes to spreading the virus and how long protection will last.
"It may be possible that we find out later down the road she wasn't able to transmit," said Viray. "We just don't know that yet."
Health experts emphasize the vaccine prevents severe cases of COVID-19 and that cases like Rayhill's are unusual.
"We wanted to prevent hospitalization, and we wanted to prevent death, and that's really where the slam dunks are with these vaccines," Viray said.
Despite her diagnosis, Rayhill encourages others to get vaccinated and shared some advice.
"Take it seriously, and follow all the precautions," she said. "You're not invincible if you're vaccinated."
The state health department is still collecting data to figure out just how many vaccinated Virginians are testing positive for COVID-19, but those numbers aren't available yet.
This article was written by Tyler Layne for WTVR.