Over the past year, COVID-19 has disrupted just about every aspect of our lives — from virtual school to work-at-home orders to canceled social and sporting events. So it’s no surprise many families are desperate to get their lives back to some form of normalcy in this New Year.
With millions of vaccinations being distributed and administered to people across the country — and here at home — is this the good news we’ve all been waiting for?
Akron Children’s sat down with pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Eric Robinette to find out what this COVID-19 vaccine means for our families, who it protects and whether getting our lives back is on the horizon.
I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and I’m waiting until I can receive my second dose. What do I need to know?
Both COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) offer an effective rate up to 95%. However, it’s important to note this high level of protection only occurs starting about 2 weeks after the second dose of the vaccine.
In clinical trails, the vaccine showed some protection prior to that time point, but it was greatly reduced compared to 2 weeks after receiving the second dose.
“It’s not like you are protected the day you walk out of the vaccine clinic,” said Dr. Robinette. “It takes at least 2 weeks after the first dose for the protection to begin to appear.”
So until you reach full immunity, safety precautions must be taken to protect yourself from a COVID-19 infection. You should continue to wear a mask in public, social distance and wash your hands frequently.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine provide protection for others or does it only protect the individual that received it?
The person who received the vaccination is fairly safe (up to a 95% reduction in risk) from contracting COVID-19 and especially from a severe case. Remember, though, you only have protection at that high level starting 2 weeks after the second dose of the vaccine.
As for whether the vaccine protects against others you’re hanging out with, say elderly grandparents or your children, we don’t know at this time.
There is no clinical data that states whether the vaccine would prevent you from developing an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection that you could then transmit to others. That type of immunity is called “sterilizing immunity,” where you not only don’t get sick, but you are also “sterilized” of the virus — meaning you can’t transmit the infection.
Dr. Robinette is optimistic we’ll have more information that the vaccine will at least reduce transmission risk in the coming months. However, until this can be proven, the safe bet is to assume the only person who has received the COVID-19 vaccine is protected from the virus.
If we get to a point where parents and teachers have been vaccinated, but kids have not, could we at least loosen the grip on safety precautions in the classroom?
It’s important to note that while children are at reduced risk of a severe COVID-19 infection, some children have developed dangerous complications.
With that said, safety precautions against COVID-19 will need to be reevaluated on an ongoing basis as to their cost versus benefit. Certainly as the level of protection from vaccination increases in the population, the benefit of certain precautions will decrease.
Dr. Robinette imagines that it might make sense to start dialing back on safety precautions that are especially costly. For example, remote learning is extremely costly to society, whereas universal masking is less so. For that reason, he believes that society will go back to in-person schooling long before we eliminate universal masking.
“While children are not the major drivers of transmission risk, it is clear that they are capable of transmitting it to adults,” said Dr. Robinette. “Since adults are at greater risk of severe COVID disease and other complications, vaccinating the adults in the schools makes it much safer to operate the schools.”
Now that I’m vaccinated, can I go back to socializing with family and friends, even those at higher-risk, like my elderly parents?
Until we have more information about “sterilizing immunity,” safety precautions should be taken. If you have been vaccinated, your own risk of getting a symptomatic or severe COVID-19 infection is significantly reduced. However, you may want to still take precautions, such as masking up and social distancing, in order to reduce transmission to others who aren’t vaccinated.
“I hope that people will use their newfound freedom to help others who haven’t yet been fortunate enough to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Robinette. “We’ve all had to sacrifice a lot during this pandemic. Being patient and kind with one another goes a long way.”