We’re in the midst of rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, and while this is an important and necessary part of ending the pandemic, it doesn’t mean that getting vaccinated puts you in the clear — at least in the early stages of the roll-out.
Natasha Salt, Sunnybrook’s director of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC), talks about misconceptions surrounding public health measures for those who are vaccinated, post-vaccine transmission, and why it’s not the time (yet) to let our guard down.
Can I change my COVID-19 prevention practices after I’ve been vaccinated?
No. Not at all, actually.
Right now, we’re still learning a lot about how the vaccine will reshape our routines. We do know that it is highly effective in preventing or reducing symptoms in those who are vaccinated (as high as 95 per cent). However, at this time, not enough people have recovered and/or been vaccinated to stop ongoing spread. Even though we may be vaccinated, we can still come in contact with COVID and pass it to others, all while never showing signs or symptoms of an infection. As there is still a lot of COVID circulating in the community, it remains important to clean your hands, physically distance, wear your mask and limit your gatherings to your household.
So, I can still spread COVID-19, even if I’m vaccinated?
I’m fully vaccinated. Technically, I’m one of these people that could be saying, “I am ready to let my guard down.” And sure, maybe my risk — my personal risk of infection — has been reduced substantially. I may or may not develop any symptoms at all if in contact with COVID virus. However, my hands, nose and mouth may come in contact with live virus from an infected person and I can still pass this on to others if I don’t clean my hands or contain my secretions. For this reason, we want to continue to protect ourselves and others by maintaining the same public health prevention measures.
What if I’m vaccinated and hanging out with other vaccinated people? Is that OK?
Hang tight, we are currently riding the third wave of the pandemic and getting together, vaccinated or not, is still not permitted. We are still learning about how much the COVID-19 vaccine will impact transmission.
So, I can still get COVID-19 if I’m vaccinated, but I won’t get as sick?
Exactly. Because I’m vaccinated, my immune system would be kicking into full gear as soon as it’s exposed to the live virus. So, the chances of it multiplying into numbers that make me sick or very infectious to others is pretty low.
If I can still get and spread COVID-19 after getting vaccinated, what’s the point in getting vaccinated?
The more people we have vaccinated or recovered from infection, the sooner we’re going to get out of this pandemic. And more importantly, what everyone is waiting for, public health measures will start to scale back. That’s the real goal here, returning to normal.
When will we be able to slow down with the measures and be able to live “normally”?
If I am being cautiously optimistic, I hope that we will have a quiet summer, but it’s hard to predict when we will return to normal. All pandemics run their course within a couple of years, and so will COVID-19. Vaccine will get us there sooner, with each day closer.
What would you say to people to compel them to continue following public health guidelines?
It’s been a long and arduous triathlon that we didn’t sign up for! Don’t fail me now, team. Decrease your chances of reaching the finish line COVID-19 free by continuing to clean your hands, wear a mask, physically distance and only leave home for essential purposes.