Since the start of the pandemic, the entire world has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine. Many equated the reality of a vaccine with a return to normalcy, believing that after receiving it, many of the precautionary measures recommended by the CDC and health experts could be abandoned. However, now that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved by the FDA and are currently being administered to the first groups, it is quickly becoming clear that this isn't the case. So, when will we be able to stop social distancing, throw away our masks, and return to life as we know it? Read on to find out—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Vaccines Don't Represent "The End" of the Pandemic
"As much as we are all ready to see the 'end' of the COVID pandemic, getting the vaccine does not mean that it is time to throw the masks away, stop social distancing and return to the way things were pre-COVID," Oyere K. Onuma, MD, MSc, Associate Director, Preventive Cardiovascular Health Program at Yale Medicine and Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology), Yale School of Medicine, tells Eat This, Not That! Health.
Unfortunately, there are several important reasons why COVID precautions will need to continue after you get vaccinated.
Immunity Will Take at Least 5 Weeks
"If you have had only the first vaccine, you are definitely not protected and can get COVID in that period between the first and second vaccines where the protection from the vaccines is only about 50% on average," Dr. Onuma points out. During this period it is absolutely crucial to continue to maintain adequate precautions with wearing masks, social distancing and washing your hands.
So, how long does it take to achieve immunity? "The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were about 95% effective after full vaccination 1 week after the second dose," she says.
The Vaccine Isn't 100 Percent Effective
Darren Mareiniss, MD, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College – Thomas Jefferson University, points out that the vaccine is only 95 percent effective. "In the Pfizer study of over 21000 immunized people, around 8 became infected 7 days after the second dose compared to 162 people in the placebo group," he explains. This means that while the majority of people who received it were effectively protected, there is still a risk of infection.
It Protects You From Getting Sick, But Might Not Protect You From Spreading It
Asymptomatic spread is one of the unfortunately harsh realities of COVID-19. "While the vaccine reduces the risk of getting COVID or having severe diseases when you are fully vaccinated, it is unclear that it prevents you from transmitting the virus to others. Vaccinated people could potentially act as asymptomatic carriers and sicken others," Dr. Onuma points out. "Hence, it is important to continue wearing masks around others and social distancing even if you have been vaccinated."
Herd Immunity Will Take Time
Dr. Onuma explains that herd immunity won't happen overnight. "When the vaccination rates are eventually high enough to reach "herd immunity" (80% or more of the population vaccinated), it might be feasible to start relaxing some of these rules," she explains. However, when this will be a reality all depends on whether the majority of the population choose to be vaccinated.
Once herd immunity is achieved, life can start to return to normal and we can start returning to movie theaters, sporting events, and even bars.
Even When Herd Immunity Is Achieved in the US, It Might Not Be the Case Elsewhere
International travel might not be safe for some time, according to Dr. Onuma. She points out that even once we achieve herd immunity in the United States, it might not be the case elsewhere. "Travel, especially to international locations where the vaccines may not be available as they are in the US could carry the same risk of asymptomatic infection," she points out.
How Long Will Immunity Last?
There is also a big question: how long will immunity last after vaccination? "We don't know how long the vaccines will impart immunity," Dr. Mareiniss points out.
Keep Following the Fundamentals
While the vaccine is sure to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus, life isn't going to return to post-pandemic normal overnight. So, in the meantime follow Dr. Anthony Fauci's fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.