by Steven Leung, Michelle Sabin, Eve Cuny and David Ojcius
As more vaccines are rolling out across the world, pandemic fatigue hits hard as we yearn for the life we had before #COVID19. But more & more questions arise. Are the days of the socially distanced “new normal” behind us?
The answer is, not yet.
As more vaccines are rolling out across the world, pandemic fatigue hits hard as we yearn for the life we had before COVID-19. But as vaccinations are being distributed, more and more questions arise. Are the days of the socially distanced “new normal” behind us? Can we finally remove the mask from our phone, wallet and keys repertoire? The answer is, not yet.
While we have heard scientists encouragingly inform us of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines having an efficacy rate of 95% and 94% respectively, we may wonder what does this really signify? This means that one out of every 20 people who are vaccinated can still experience infection, whether it be symptomatic or asymptomatic. Israel, which currently leads the world in vaccinations per capita, reported that out of those who had received both shots of the vaccine, less than 0.01% had become infected with the virus. And even more compelling, of those 0.01% who had contracted COVID-19, none of them experienced symptoms resulting in hospitalization.
As exciting as these new data are, we cannot yet prepare to return to pre-COVID-19 norms. Remember that Pfizer and Moderna are not 100% effective, so the risk remains to contract the virus. Additionally, a major concern with the COVID-19 vaccine is whether you might still have an asymptomatic infection despite immunization and therefore, unknowingly transmit the virus to others as an asymptomatic carrier. As new strains of the virus emerge, vaccine manufacturers and scientists are studying the efficacy of current vaccines in preventing infection with these strains.
The more people who are vaccinated, the quicker we will achieve herd immunity (that is, where enough people become immune to the virus that the spread becomes close to null), also decreasing the chance that new strains have the time to emerge. How we can further achieve this goal is to continue with the FDA emergency approvals of up-and-coming vaccines such as the Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, and the Novavax vaccine.
All four of these vaccines have shown good protection against the new B.117 variant thst was originally detected in the UK and is slowly making its way around the world. And as the different vaccines become available, countries will be able to make better decisions on which vaccine can best fit their needs, regarding protection against new coronavirus strains, ease of vaccine transportation and storage, and overall availability, that will bring us a step closer to herd immunity worldwide.
As the vaccine distribution continues, it is essential that we continue to take additional steps beyond vaccination to keep the spread under control. We should continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing, travel only when necessary, and avoid large gatherings.
Hope is on the horizon as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit patients have steadily declined in California since early January. Recent changes have also been made to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding behavior of vaccinated people in the U.S. For those who may have been exposed to the virus but are fully vaccinated within three months of the last dose and have remained asymptomatic, they will not need to quarantine because data has shown a fourfold decrease in viral load. This is great news, because lower levels of virus mean lower chances of transmission.
While tempting as it is to rip off your mask and hug friends, it is imperative we hang tight and remain cautious (and precautious) as vaccine continues to be distributed. Slowly, we will be able to return to the activities we have missed this past year. It is important for public health agencies to carefully allow activities and businesses to resume based on local incidence of disease, hospital capacity, and percent of the population that has been vaccinated.
It is also important to recognize our own physical and mental health and find a happy medium to keep us going so that we may flatten the curve and bring the pandemic under control.
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