You’ve Been Vaccinated: Now What? Life After Coronavirus Vaccination
Many people are desperate to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Many mistakenly believe after their coronavirus vaccination, their lives can then return to “normal.”
Our family practice doctors want to caution you that it’s not that simple. There are so many things we still don’t know for sure about the vaccine that it’s unlikely we’ll have a quick return to pre-pandemic life.
“There are many people that think it’s kind of an antidote to it all and that once you’re vaccinated, you won’t have to mask or distance or any of those things,” Namandje Bumpus, director of the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said during a community call.
“Certainly, all of us getting vaccinated moves us toward that more quickly, but it’s not something that we’re going to be able to do as soon as we get vaccinated. We’re going to have to continue to be diligent the way that we have been.”
The knowns and unknowns
This may be frustrating and even depressing to those who have thought they’d earn their ticket to freedom after their coronavirus vaccination. But there are too many variables that can make that iffy at this point.
For one thing, even two inoculations with the approved vaccines confer about 95 percent protection in the best scenario. That means there’s still a five percent chance that you can still contract the virus. Five out of every hundred people who have been vaccinated are still vulnerable to the virus.
Then there is the question of transmission. One of the big unknowns about the vaccination is whether you can still pass the virus on to others. Experts say this is a real possibility.
“We don’t yet know whether being vaccinated means that you’re no longer a carrier of coronavirus,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
“It’s possible that someone could get the vaccine but could still be an asymptomatic carrier,” she said during a live Q&A on the network. “They may not show symptoms, but they have the virus in their nasal passageway so that if they’re speaking, breathing, sneezing and so on, they can still transmit it to others.”
Remember that individuals with no symptoms, known as “silent spreaders,” are responsible for up to half of all cases of coronavirus transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The variant variable
Then there is the proliferation of variants of the virus, not only around the world but especially in the U.S. The two vaccines approved for use in this country—Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—appear to confer high immunity against most of the variants found in this country. This includes the more transmissible and potentially more deadly South African variant (officially known as B.1.351), which has been found in nearly all states.
Even after the public receives the coronavirus vaccination, those doses may not be enough. As the virus continues to mutate, a third dose of a modified vaccine may be necessary to prevent serious cases.
“All five of the companies that have U.S. vaccines are looking at making that modification and adding that [coverage for new variants] in so that people who’ve already had two shots might need to get a third shot,” Bill Gates told CBS News recently. Gates is funding studies in South Africa to learn whether the AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax vaccines are effective against the B.1.351 variant.
The good news is, even if the currently approved vaccines don’t entirely prevent infection and subsequent symptoms, they all appear to be effective at preventing serious illness and deaths.
Can extended families mingle?
One of the hardest parts of the quarantine requirements has been keeping extended family members apart. But what about after everyone’s coronavirus vaccination? Does that mean it’s safe to gather?
Experts still recommend a certain level of caution.
“I feel like a gathering of a small number of people where everyone is vaccinated is a much safer situation—much—than it was before we had vaccines,” Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told The Washington Post. “The only thing that people want to hear, though, is, ‘Is it 100 percent safe?’ And we don’t have proof of that yet.”
Still, vaccinations all around are an improvement.
“It’s probably pretty safe to see others who were also vaccinated, after everyone gets both doses and waits a few weeks [to ensure full immunity has taken hold],” Wen told CNN.
And since there is no immunization for young people yet, “If you really want to spend time with the grandkids indoors, the safest way to do this is still for everyone to quarantine for at least 10 days and lower their risk during these 10 days,” she said.
Don’t give up hope
If all this has left you feeling demoralized, that’s not our aim. We just want you to understand that it’s not over quite yet.
“We are all tired and are at risk of burnout from all of this,” Joshua Barocas, an infectious-disease physician at Boston Medical Center, told The Post.
“The goal is not to say, ‘You absolutely cannot meet with people.’ It’s to say, ‘Let’s continue to do the things that we know lower your risk as best as you possibly can.’ ”