Christine and John Burstein both tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Credit: Courtesy Of Christine and John Burstein / Maine Public

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 56 more breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among people who are vaccinated. That brings the total in the state to 712.

The agency said the true number is likely higher, but these cases still account for just a fraction of infections in Maine — less than 2 percent since vaccines have become available. Still, some of the people affected are riding a wave of symptoms — and emotions.

Last weekend, Christine Burstein of Lincolnville was planning to take part in the Camden Regatta. But in the days leading up to the race, she felt congested. She had painful coughs that ran deep in her chest. When she tried to get out of bed the morning of the regatta, she said she nearly passed out.

“I exercise a lot. I’m in good shape for my age. And for me to feel like I’m about to pass out was really kinda scary,” Christine said.

Burstein is 63. And she’s vaccinated against COVID-19, so she figured she had a cold. But she decided to get tested for the virus anyway. Much to her surprise, it came back positive.

“Ya know after the first shot and after the second, we felt somewhat invincible.”

Burstein said “we” because her husband John, who is 71, also tested positive. Now about a week into their infections, their symptoms have shifted mostly to fatigue. But John said he’s also started to get waves of mental fog.

“I’m feeling this sense of disorientation and it scares the hell out of me.”

The Bursteins think they got Covid while traveling recently from California. At the airport, they struck up a conversation with two other travelers while eating lunch.

“We had our masks off. I heard them talking about being COVID-deniers a few minutes before hand. And I thought, uh-oh, COVID-deniers, and we were over 15 minutes, unmasked, really close,” Christine said.

“I let my guard down,” John said.

John said it was a mistake to think that vaccination made him 100 percent immune from COVID-19. But he’s thankful that he and Christine got the vaccine, which protected them from even worse symptoms. He’s also frustrated. Because he says if more people were vaccinated, the virus wouldn’t be spreading so rapidly.

“Frankly, I have to say this. There’s an anger that I feel,” he said.

That’s an emotion Darlene Huntress of Hollis is also feeling. Her 26-year old daughter Emily, who is vaccinated and lives in California, has a breakthrough infection. She tested positive nearly three weeks ago. Despite being an otherwise healthy young adult, she still has a wide range of symptoms: Fever. Coughing. A loss of taste and smell. And body aches that keep her up at night.

“She’s just really struggling. I mean, thank god she’s vaccinated because I think if she wasn’t, I cannot imagine — I’m certain she would be hospitalized. I really believe this vaccine is keeping her out of the hospital and saving her life.”

Her condition is so concerning that Huntress’s wife flew out to California this week to care for their daughter. Huntress now worries that her wife could develop a breakthrough infection. And she’s upset that her family is caught up in a fourth wave of COVID-19 that was preventable.

“We have a vaccine that would have slowed it down, would have controlled it and would have ultimately stopped it. And because not enough people who are eligible to be vaccinated and have access to the vaccinations — because so many of those people decided not to do this, the delta variant has had the freedom to just ravage the country.”

The U.S. CDC has confirmed that even those who are fully vaccinated can harbor and spread the delta variant, but the agency continues to urge vaccination as the best strategy to curb transmission.

As her family is already vaccinated and taking safety precautions such as wearing masks, Huntress says she doesn’t know what else they can do. Now, she said, they’re depending on luck and the choices of strangers.

“Compassion and responsibility is simple as getting a free vaccine. That is available all over the place. It’s as simple as rolling up your sleeves and getting a vaccine,” Huntress said.

To protect the people you know, she says, and the people you don’t.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.