Coronavirus vaccines are the light at the end of a very dark tunnel – a pandemic that has resulted in 2 million deaths worldwide and over 420,000 deaths in the US alone.
The good news and bad news: while the light may be closer if more people are vaccinated, the end of the tunnel is still a long way off – even for those who have received a vaccine.
In the United States, more than 3 million Americans received two doses of either vaccine on Monday afternoon. This is based on data published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These are primarily adults living or working in long-term care facilities and frontline health workers who have priority access to the vaccine in all states.
Both vaccines take at least two weeks from receiving the second dose to build an immune response. The Pfizer / BioNTech
Vaccine Offers 95% Efficacy During Moderna
The vaccine offers 94% effectiveness according to late-stage studies.
A person who has been vaccinated can still contract coronavirus even though they are more likely to be asymptomatic.
These effectiveness rates for both vaccines mean that "94% won't get seriously ill," said Dr. William Schaffner, CDC advisor and infectious disease specialist. "It's very, very successful."
When it came to flu shots, he said, "We're not getting anywhere near this success. Year after year it's about 45% [effective]."
Does that mean these 3 million vaccinated Americans can safely go back to living from COVID two weeks after receiving their second dose?
A person who has been vaccinated still has the ability to get infected with coronavirus, although according to preliminary data they are more likely to be asymptomatic. Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the infectious diseases division at Buffalo University in New York, said it was not yet clear whether these vaccinated people could pass it on to others.
Because of this, Russo, who received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 5, said he can only interact with people who have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks in unmasked settings.
"I would go to a dinner party with my vaccinated friends because the likelihood of us being contagious is slim," he said.
Does the difference in effectiveness rate between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines matter?
The 0.5% difference in effectiveness rates is "meaningless," said Dr. Gregory Poland, infectious disease expert and director of the vaccine research group at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
A potential trailblazer, however, could be Johnson & Johnson
Vaccine expected to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in the coming weeks.
The company is expected to release data from Phase 3 studies this week showing the effectiveness rate of its single-dose vaccine.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a low risk of dangerous side effects. There were 10 cases of anaphylaxis among the approximately 4 million doses administered between December 21 and January 10, the CDC reported.
Do I still have to wear a mask even after I have been fully vaccinated??
Even if you have been fully vaccinated, it is important to continue to wear a face mask and practice social distancing in public places like supermarkets, restaurants, and transportation, where you are likely to encounter more people who have not been vaccinated and could potentially get infected from you .
Even if you have been fully vaccinated, it is important to keep wearing a face mask and practice social distancing in public places
Wearing a mask with elderly relatives and in public places, even if you have been fully vaccinated, "creates uncertainty and stress for other people because they do not know if you have been vaccinated," Russo told MarketWatch.
Can I eat in restaurants now if I have been vaccinated?
Since diners in restaurants do not typically wear masks, there is a greater chance that you or someone else will come into contact with breath droplets that can transmit coronavirus.
Eating outdoors is significantly safer than eating indoors, according to health experts, because virus-containing droplets have more room to disperse. It can also be easier to place tables outdoors more than two meters apart.
"Neither of us should be there," Russo said, referring to indoor restaurants
Russo said he will continue to avoid eating indoors as he could potentially transmit the virus to someone who is not or partially vaccinated.
"Neither of us should be there," Russo said, referring to indoor restaurants.
However, if future studies show that fully vaccinated people cannot transmit the virus, Russo would reconsider eating indoors.
Is it okay to get on a plane?
Domestic flights were on average 25% cheaper last year than in 2019, according to travel website Hopper. However, according to some travel experts, prices are expected to rise later this year as more people are vaccinated.
If you've been fully vaccinated, you don't necessarily have to give up travel thefts. In fact, Russo hasn't canceled a cruise that he and his wife booked two years ago and that is slated to take place at the end of August this year.
He would be comfortable on the voyage if his wife were also fully vaccinated and everyone else on board was fully vaccinated and tested before setting sail.
However, Poland does not recommend traveling as it can accelerate the spread of the coronavirus. "It's like fuel in a fire," he told MarketWatch.
Can I visit my grandparents now after I have been vaccinated?
Coronavirus has placed a disproportionate burden on the elderly, especially those who live in long-term care facilities. Their documented susceptibility and susceptibility to contagion and potential death from coronavirus is why they are given priority access to vaccine in the US and other parts of the world.
Because of this, during the height of the pandemic, many nursing homes banned visitors and people stopped interacting personally with the elderly. As a result, the elderly experienced an unprecedented rate of social isolation during the pandemic, increasing their risk of developing dementia.
If you and an older friend or relative are both fully vaccinated, "the benefits of visiting outweigh these small risks they could have in developing a serious coronavirus case," Russo told MarketWatch.
Likewise, Ashley Ritter, a geriatric nurse and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, said that once she is fully vaccinated, she will feel more comfortable visiting her father, who is immunocompromised and recently had a kidney transplant.
She is due to receive her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday. However, Ritter, who also serves as chief clinical officer and vice president of the science communication project Dear Pandemic, will not visit him until he has been fully vaccinated for two weeks as well.
"I haven't seen him in so many months so it will be so much more comfortable to be in his company," she said. She and her father still plan to wear masks around each other to make sure they don't accidentally asymptomatically infect one another.
Ultimately, a return to normal depends on getting as many people as possible vaccinated, Ritter said. Health professionals say a 70% to 80% vaccination rate would get close to herd immunity if those who have the vaccine help prevent those who are not vaccinated from contracting the virus.