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What happens if you get the vaccine and don't know you have COVID-19?

Cleveland physicians say it shouldn’t harm you if you get the vaccine when you have COVID-19, but it isn't necessarily a good thing.

COVID-19 cases are again on the rise, fueled by the new BA.5 variant that typically produces mild symptoms or, in some cases like previous variants, none at all.

So what happens if you get the vaccine when you have COVID-19? Could that increase or decrease your chances of becoming seriously ill?

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you shouldn't get the vaccine or a booster while you have symptoms. It is better to wait until your isolation period is over. Additionally, if you do get COVID-19 you should consider delaying your next shot by three months from when your symptoms started or when you tested positive.

But it won’t make you sicker or less sick if you have COVID-19 and get the vaccine, said Dr. Thad Stappenbeck, chair of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, but it could make the vaccine less effective if you get the shot when you have symptoms of any virus, he said.

That's why health care workers ask if you’re feeling sick before getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Stappenbeck said.

“They’ll wait until you’re feeling better for like a week or so, and then you can get vaccinated,” he said. “It’s all about the vaccine working. That’s really what this is all about.”

It is also best not to get other vaccines, like the flu shot, if you’re feeling sick, because it can impact the vaccine’s effectiveness, Stappenbeck said.

Dr. David Margolius, the city of Cleveland's director of public health, agreed that it shouldn’t make a difference if you get the vaccine when you have COVID.

“The reason we ask people to wait until they have recovered from COVID before getting the vaccine is to keep all the health care workers and others safe during the process,” Dr. Margolius said in an email.

Ideastream Public Media's health team is answering as many questions as possible about COVID-19, with help from local experts. You can send us your questions with our online form, or call us at 216-916-6476. We'll keep the answers coming on our website and on the air.

Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie is the digital producer of Ideastream Public Media’s health team.