The UK has already begun dolling out coronavirus vaccines, and the US is just days away from injecting its first doses into those who need it most.
"This is an important scientific step for the world as vaccines will be critical in the battle against COVID-19," the World Health Organisation's Director General said during a media briefing last week. "Progress on vaccines gives us all a lift and we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel."
But getting the vaccine doesn't mean you can resume daily activities of pre-coronavirus living, at least initially, Debra Goff, an infectious-disease pharmacist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, told Business Insider.
"I think people's perception is you get the vaccine and you're safe and finally we can stop all this masking and social distancing and stuff, but that's not actually reality," Goff, also a pharmacy professor at OSU, said.
The reality is it will take time to learn how well, if at all, the vaccine protects people around those who are vaccinated, and likely longer to reach a level of herd immunity that can allow us all to let down our guards, or at least our masks.
"A vaccine is the first step to helping us return to pre-COVID normality," Goff said. "It's not the end-all." Here's what you can and can't do after getting the vaccine.
You can start to make tentative plans for the future
Experts have projected that aspects of pre-COVID life will begin to resume in spring 2021 and inch closer to the old normal by the year's end. Once you're vaccinated, you can, quite frankly, have more confidence that you'll be around to embrace that shift.
That means planning a short May getaway, for instance, might come with fewer headaches than the same trip this past May, and planning a 2021 Thanksgiving can likely resemble a 2019 Turkey Day more than a 2020 one.
Planning to host an indoor maskless networking event is tricky. It depends on how careful people remain during the vaccine rollout, and how many people are willing to get it once they are able.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, has said we'll need 75 percent to 85 percent of Americans to get vaccinated to "crush" the virus.
Life won't be 100 percent normal until the whole world has reached this level of herd immunity, Fauci and Bill Gates agreed last month on a podcast the Microsoft founder cohosts with actress Rashida Jones.
"If we have the disease elsewhere in the world, it's not clear to me we can go back and do big sports events or open up the bars because like Australia or South Korea, the risk of reinfection will be looming out there," Gates said. "So as long as it's in the world, I'm not sure we'll be completely back to normal."
You can't stop wearing your mask and social distancing
We don't yet know if the vaccine protects people from acquiring asymptomatic illness and becoming silent spreaders. Right now, we only know that the vaccines (namely Pfizer's and Moderna's) protect people from getting noticeably sick with COVID-19.
For now, "for the good of your fellow mankind, you need to continue to wear that mask" and keep physical distance, Goff said.
Another reason to do so is that it takes 10 to 12 days after getting the first dose of the vaccine to become effective against the coronavirus. Even then, it's only 52 percent effective. The vaccine doesn't reach its full efficacy (around 95 percent) until after the second dose, which is given about three to four weeks later.
So going straight from your first COVID shot to a tequila shot at the bar next to the pharmacy is a bad idea.
Finally, the vaccines aren't 100 percent effective, so there's a small chance you could still get COVID-19 after receiving both doses of the shot. "For that reason, you don't want to be cavalier" in thinking it's impossible for you to get ill, Goff said.
You can be a caretaker for a friend or loved one with COVID-19
There's a reason healthcare workers are among the first in line when it comes to receiving the vaccine: They are caring for COVID patients, and need to protect themselves from getting sick to do their jobs.
If you too are vaccinated and someone in your household has the illness, you're in a good position to bring them food and drink, check their temperature, and even keep them company.
With the vaccine under your belt, there's a very tiny chance you'll get infected, particularly if you continue to wear a mask and wash your hands frequently, as healthcare workers do.
You can't start mingling and huddling into bars just yet
Right now, gatherings with strangers remain a risky activity, even if you're vaccinated, mostly because you could be unknowingly passing the virus to others who aren't vaccinated.
But such events will become less risky if and when we learn whether the vaccine protects against transmission (something researchers are studying right now). Plus, as more people get vaccinated, the more we'll learn in real time.
"Between now and January, we're going to know a whole lot more. Every day is a new learning experience," Goff said. "We're almost there, but we're not across the finish line."
Meantime, maskless indoor drinking and dining remains risky as it's possible the virus can transmit via tiny, light-weight aerosols (not just respiratory droplets) that can float and linger in poorly ventilated spaces.
So even if you're vaccinated, and until most people are, such settings can fuel super-spreader situations.
You can start to feel a sense of relief
Once you and everyone around you has received both doses of the vaccine, and waited the one to two weeks it's now believed to take to reach full efficacy (though that timeframe could change as we learn more), you won't have to do all the mental gymnastics of figuring out who you're comfortable inviting to what, for example, or who's been exposed to who.
Eventually, mask usage will likely fade, though Goff predicts the pandemic has made the coverings more socially acceptable for folks who are immunocompromised or otherwise susceptible to viral illnesses to wear them in the US going forward. "That's a good thing," she said.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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