Health Team

Yes, a Covid-19 vaccine has arrived. But here's what NOT to do

Posted December 14, 2020 3:06 a.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2020 5:29 p.m. EST

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he’d like for 85 percent of Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine in order to achieve herd immunity.

For Raleigh, that would mean 400,000 people would need to be vaccinated to achieve that 85 percent.

Until then, there are three things you should avoid until the virus is under control.

Don't believe myths about vaccine safety

Dr. Robin Peace, the president of University of North Carolina Health Southeastern, said while the development of the vaccine was quick, that doesn't mean the science behind it isn't well thought out.

"The technology used to create this COVID-19 vaccine ... they had to be researching that and studying that for years," she explained.

Peace said she's also heard concerns about what's in the vaccine.

"They think we're injecting them with COVID. There's no live COVID virus in the vaccine. There is no live flu in the flu vaccine," she added.

It will be months before most people can receive the vaccine, so be patient and don't rush out to your doctor's office or pharmacy in hopes of getting one right away.

It's up to states to allocate their share of vaccines, but the CDC has recommended that frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities get the vaccine first. Other high-priority groups include essential workers, emergency personnel and those with underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of complications or death.

For the next several months, the focus will be on vaccinating these individuals, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN last week. And it will likely be the spring when the vaccine becomes more widely available.

"I would project by the time you get to April, it will be ... 'open season,' in the sense of anyone, even the non-high-priority groups, could get vaccinated," Fauci said.

Pointing to the other vaccine candidates in clinical trials and under FDA review, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Axios last week there will be enough vaccines for any American who wants one by the end of the second quarter of 2021.

"We want to make this eventually so it's as much like getting your flu vaccine as possible," he said.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, told CNN she thinks it's a "great idea" for people to call their doctor's office to find out what their plan might be for administering vaccines, but that information may not be readily available just yet.

"Much more information is going to be coming in the near future about how people will be able to access those vaccines when they're more broadly available, but frankly, that's probably a month or more off," Malcolm added.

In the meantime, if receiving a new vaccine gives you pause, you should read up on it. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective, but Moncef Slaoui, the head of the federal government's Operation Warp Speed vaccine initiative, told "Fox News Sunday" that he was concerned about the level of vaccine hesitancy.

"We hope that now that all the data is out and available to be discussed in detail that people will keep their mind open, to listen to the data," Slaoui said, "and hopefully agree that this is a very effective and safe vaccine, and therefore take it."

Don't stop wearing masks

Masks will continue to be crucial tools in the fight against COVID-19, even as shots go into arms.

Dr. Sandro Cinti, an infectious disease specialist and medical professor at the University of Michigan, explained that it remains unclear whether people vaccinated against the virus can still infect someone else.

The trials only tracked COVID-19 in people who were showing symptoms. But according to the CDC, about 40% of cases are in people who show no symptoms.

"You have to wear your mask," he said. "What they didn't look at was if you get the vaccine and you're protected, can you still get some virus that then goes in your nose and then infect somebody else."

"Don't take off your mask -- you're not safe. We don't know that you're safe, we don't know that at all. Really what we have to do is those of us who get vaccinated, we have to not change anything because we don't know that this prevents us from acquiring the virus and then shedding the virus and giving it to someone ese," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at University of North Carolina Medical Center.

Fauci echoed that message while speaking to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper during CNN's coronavirus town hall last week. Even if you get vaccinated in January or February, he said, "There may be half the country that is still not vaccinated, which means there is a lot of virus floating around there."

"And even if you are vaccinated, you may be protected against getting sick, but you may not be protected from infection," he said.

It's possible that vaccinated individuals could still pick up the virus. While it may not make them sick, they could still spread it to someone else through a cough or sneeze.

"The more and more people that get vaccinated, the less and less the threat is," Fauci said. "Whether you get to the point if you have an overwhelming majority of people vaccinated and you have a good umbrella of herd immunity, you can get back to as close to normal as you want."

Over 300,000 people have died from the virus and health experts predict 100,000 more may die.

"Keep up the protections. You don't want to be one of those 100,000," said Wohl.

Don't stop social distancing

Throughout the pandemic, social distancing has gone hand in hand with masks, and that doesn't change now.

Both will still be necessary, even after receiving the vaccine, the CDC said Saturday.

No vaccine is 100% effective and protection is not immediate, CDC Dr. Sarah Mbaeyi said in a meeting Saturday with the agency's vaccine advisory committee. Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart to reach 95% efficacy, and it will take one to two weeks after the second dose for a person to be considered "fully vaccinated."

"Given the currently limited information on how well the vaccine works in the general population; how much it may reduce disease, severity or transmission; and how long protection lasts, vaccinated persons should continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others," Mbaeyi said, including masking, social distancing and washing hands.

"We really have to be careful. We should not take this as a license to drop all the things that we know work really well. I'm going to continue to mask, I'm going to continue to social distance," said Wohl.

"We need to keep doing everything that we've been doing until everyone is vaccinated," said Peace.

Sadly, for many Americans, continuing to social distance may mean not gathering with their loved ones for the holidays.

Even Fauci has said that while he wants to see his three daughters, his family will not gather for Christmas for the first time in 30 years. In an interview hosted by the Milken Institute last week, Fauci told CBS' Norah O'Donnell that even modest gatherings of families and friends were driving the ongoing surge of COVID-19.

"We're starting to see infections that are emerging from what otherwise seem like benign settings," he said, expressing concern about the potential for spread over the holidays.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to stay home for the holidays and adhere to California's regional stay-at-home order, pointing to a surge in cases that followed Thanksgiving gatherings.

"We have to make sure there's not a Christmas and holiday surge on top of that," he said. "That's in our hands to stop these numbers from climbing, these (hospital) beds from disappearing, and these lives from being ended."

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper made a similar plea in a written statement, asking North Carolinians to have virtual gatherings this holiday season.

"As tough as this is, especially at the holidays, the sacrifices we're making now will ensure that our loved ones can gather again at next year's Thanksgiving and Christmas tables," he wrote.

Wohl said it's a "fool's game" to try and predict when life could return to normal, even with the arrival of the vaccine.

"I will say, clearly, for the next couple of months we're going to be in a situation to where we're at now," he added. "It's going to be a while but this is the tool that's going to get us where we want to be."

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