You got the vaccine. Now what?
The COVID-19 vaccines are life-saving and life-changing, but probably not in
all the ways you hope.
In other words, don’t throw out your mask.
“We don't have public data that shows that just because you’ve had the second dose of the vaccine, you still can’t carry COVID at a low level,” said
Kevin Mulroy, DO, senior vice president and chief quality officer of Cape Cod Healthcare. “Remember that the masking and all the other things you’re doing, it’s not really to protect you, it’s to protect those around you.”
The mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna have both been shown to be about
95 percent effective after two shots in preventing severe COVID infections. The latest vaccine, a one-shot version made by Johnson & Johnson, is rated at 72 percent efficacy in the United States. The results are based on trials featuring tens of thousands of participants.
However, there’s not enough data on how much the vaccines limit transmission or how long protection lasts to allow us to stop taking other protective measures during the pandemic, the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control says.
The agency and other medical experts say even those who are vaccinated should continue to follow the current guidelines to protect others:
face mask; Social distance at least 6 feet;
Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas;
Wash hands correctly and often.
If we let down our guard too soon, we endanger those who have not been vaccinated, said Dr. Mulroy. Because the vaccines protect against severe infection, people who have been vaccinated may not know they carry COVID, he said.
“If you were to still carry a low level of COVID, despite the fact it can’t give you symptomatic disease, you could still give it to the people around you who haven’t been vaccinated,” he said.
And, with the vaccine rollout barely two months old, it’s too soon to have data on how long the vaccine antibodies will last, he said. “We really need to have good data... . Are the vaccine antibodies going to be protective for three months? Are they going to be protective for a year or two years? We don’t really know that data.”
There are signs of hope that some restrictions, including for travel, will ease as vaccinations become more common. The
CDC quarantine recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated were eased recently, although the federal agency says everyone should still follow state and local rules. For now, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is sticking to its state quarantine rules that require anyone traveling out of state to follow Gov. Charlie Baker’s Travel Order and either quarantine for 10 days on return or produce a negative COVID test administered within 72 hours of arriving in Massachusetts.
But on Feb. 25, the governor announced that the state hoped to move forward into Phase 4 of re-opening in March, partly because of the increased distribution of vaccines. That would allow outdoor arenas like Fenway Park and some large indoor spaces, like theaters, to re-open, although at reduced capacity. Dr. Mulroy is optimistic that life will feel more relaxed as we move into summer and can be outdoors.
In the meantime, even if the vaccine does not immediately bring all the lifestyle changes we hope for, it should at least relieve some people’s anxiety about contracting COVID-19 or becoming seriously ill from it, Dr. Mulroy said.
“One thing the vaccine is outstanding at is preventing severe disease,” he said. “So, if I get the vaccine, I have the confidence every day to know, if I were going to contract this thing, it’s not going to kill me.”