As the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins across the country and everyone is eager to get back to normal life, it can be confusing to understand what you can and cannot do once you and those around you are vaccinated. A Baylor College of Medicine vaccine expert weighs in on why we still need to be cautious of spreading the virus in the community.
First, it is important to get both doses of the vaccine for full protection.
“Once we have our first dose of the vaccine, there is a degree of protection that starts to kick in,” said Dr. Hana El Sahly, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology and of medicine – infectious diseases at Baylor. “But the information and data we have about the effectiveness of the vaccines are really about two doses. So everyone should make sure to get their second dose for full protection as we know it from these clinical trials that we just conducted.”
The efficacy data that has been reported on the vaccines is based on data from 14 days after the second dose of the vaccine was administered in the Moderna trial and seven days after the second dose in the Pfizer trial.
As vaccines becomes more widely available and more data are generated about long-term efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well as newer vaccines in the pipelines, El Sahly hopes that we can vaccinate a large fraction of the community and have more comfort in easing social distancing measures and resuming life as we knew it before COVID-19.
However, even after receiving the second dose, El Sahly said to keep in mind that much of the data is short term and does not tell us what the vaccines do for our ability to transmit the virus to others.
“It is possible that if we are vaccinated we are much less likely to come down with COVID symptoms but we do not know that we are not having asymptomatic infection that could be spread to others,” she said.
Until the vaccine coverage in the community is high, it is very important to maintain the preventive measures of social distancing and mask wearing.
El Sahly also cautioned that the available data only provides information about the two-month period post-vaccination and little is known about the vaccine efficacy for a longer time period.
“Longer term data will be generated soon, but we all need to keep in mind that for now, all the data we have on protection is short term,” she said.
Once you are fully vaccinated and are deciding whether you should spend time with other fully vaccinated individuals indoors or without masks, El Sahly recommends looking at the risk versus the benefit, especially if one or more of the individuals is in a higher risk category or if it’s been more than two months since everyone received the second dose of the vaccine.
At this time, she also recommends not gathering in large groups indoors. If you are considering flying after the second dose of the vaccine, keep in mind there are other people on the airplane that you can unknowingly spread the virus to and that there’s still a small chance that you can get the virus. It’s important to keep your mask on and take all other safety precautions if you are traveling.