As we approach the anniversary of widespread lockdowns in response to the emergence of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19), and vaccinations against the virus are becoming more common, many of us are wondering if it’s finally time to abandon our masks and start gathering again.
The short answer? No.
The long answer? It’s complicated.
If you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, here’s why you should make peace with your mask and virtual events for a little while longer:
The idea of herd immunity
—i.e. when enough of a population is immune from a disease making it more difficult for a virus to spread—is often misunderstood. Reaching herd immunity is critical to ending the pandemic, but it’s not going to happen as soon as we may think.
Vaccine roll-out has been bumpy at best with vaccination rates far lower than what experts say they need to be to reach herd immunity quickly—these rates are even more dismal among Black and Hispanic people
. Consider also that vaccines are in short supply, and people who would otherwise be ready to get vaccinated are excluded in favor of higher risk people or healthcare workers, like Direct Support Professionals (DSPs).
Since two of the most commonly used vaccines at this time require two doses, you won’t reach the 94-95% effective rate immediately. Your body needs time to develop an immune response. After the first dose of a two-dose vaccine, you’re around 50-80% protected
. The second dose needs another two weeks to reach its full potential, but that doesn’t mean you’re 100% immune from contracting the virus. In fact, health experts don’t expect the required number of vaccinated people for herd immunity to be achieved until late 2022.
Vaccines aren’t 100% protection
As are many things in life, nothing is perfect. The COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool in our toolbox, but it’s not magic. A single person’s vaccination status doesn’t mean that person can return to a “normal” life.
Despite the incredible effects from the available vaccines—not to mention the amazing scientific achievement—populations must learn to embrace mask wearing, social distancing, hand hygiene, and the avoidance of crowded or poorly ventilated spaces to end the pandemic. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines may have an effective rate between 94-95%, but it’s impossible to know who falls into the other 5% and won’t develop an immune response.
Regardless, a vaccinated person can still carry the virus asymptomatically. This means even if you’re vaccinated, you can still spread the virus to someone who isn’t vaccinated or is considered high-risk like people with disabilities, pregnant people, or immunocompromised people.
There’s also still a chance someone may develop a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, and they would not receive the necessary second dose (for the vaccines requiring one) for full immunization.
Throughout the past several months, scientists have noticed a troubling trend: Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are emerging
What’s even more worrying is they don’t fully understand them. There are three recognized variants that have been identified in the United States, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists are studying the variants as quickly as possible to learn:
- Whether the variants spread more easily from person-to-person;
- If they cause milder or more severe disease in people;
- If they can be detected by the currently available tests;
- Whether they respond to medicines currently used to treat people with COVID-19; and
- If they will change the effectiveness of vaccines.
The answers to these questions could profoundly affect pandemic management strategies going forward. Because we don’t know enough about the variants, health experts are urging everyone to continue following established protocol for reducing your risk of infection.
We still need everyone to work together to continue fighting this pandemic. COVID-19 fatigue is real
, but if we relax even a little bit, we may lose what bit of control we’ve gained over the virus.
Please continue universal masking
, social distancing, avoiding crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands frequently. If you’re eligible to receive a vaccine, understand the benefits and risks of vaccination
and sign up for an appointment today