After almost a full year of dealing with the coronavirus, everyone is looking forward to returning to normal life. This new normal is hard to picture as we await vaccine distribution, but we are all making progress toward crushing COVID-19. Dr. Sandra Kesh answers some common questions about what you can and can’t do after receiving the vaccine.
As more people receive the vaccine, will we be able to do more?
Yes. Getting the vaccine gives you peace of mind, which is not a small thing after dealing with risk and uncertainty for over a year. After getting my vaccine, I now worry much less if the train is very crowded, or if someone sneezes or coughs close to me. Getting 95% immunity from the mRNA vaccines is a pretty terrific feeling! Also, getting vaccinated means you no longer have to quarantine if you’re exposed to someone who might be infected. Say you have dinner with a friend, who you later find out was infected. If you’ve been vaccinated, there are two benefits. First, the chance of you getting infected by your friend is incredibly low (less than 5% with the mRNA vaccines). Second, the chance of you picking up COVID-19 from your friend and spreading it to others is very low. As with most things COVID-related, there are no absolutes. Which is why we continue to recommend masks and social distancing. But getting the vaccine allows you go back to more normal activities, with much less fear about what might happen as a result.
When I get the vaccine, can I see my family? Can I see others who have also received the vaccine?
There are very few guarantees in medicine, and less so with a new disease. The lowest risk situation is one where everyone has been vaccinated, and no one has been exposed. But we know that’s not reality yet, in most cases. Let’s say you have an indoor family gathering where one person is unknowingly infected. Those who have been vaccinated don’t have to worry much about getting exposed. But those who haven’t been vaccinated still have a significant risk of exposure and infection. And masks are great, but the CDC still counts “over 15 minutes, within 6 feet” as exposure, even if you’re wearing a mask. Vaccination is not a green light to do away with masks and social distancing, it does give you a healthy dose of protection (not to mention peace of mind) in settings like these.
What if my elderly parents both get the vaccine? Can I see them? Can I hug them?
If you’re vaccinated and they are vaccinated, I don’t see any real risk to visiting and, yes, even hugging them. That’s a wonderful thing to do with our parents, who have suffered the worst effects of social distancing in this pandemic. If they are vaccinated and you have not yet been, the risk of you having an asymptomatic infection and exposing them is still there, but they are far less likely to get infected if that happens. That risk of course goes down with mask use, which remains the safest approach until we achieve herd immunity in our communities.
What about the variants? Will the current vaccine version protect against them?
Yes, all evidence so far indicates the mRNA vaccines provide good protection against severe infection from the newer variants. Of course, more remains to be learned as further studies are done. I suspect this coronavirus will eventually go in the direction of an influenza-type virus, and become a disease we need regular vaccination against. As with flu, resistant strains could arise and the vaccines may not be 100% effective against these strains. But some protection from a vaccine is often all you need to turn a potentially deadly virus into a seasonal nuisance.
Do we all need to continue masking and social distancing?
Yes, until we reach herd immunity, these remain highly effective ways of preventing spread, especially for the majority of people who have not yet been vaccinated.