But until more people are actually vaccinated and the country reaches herd immunity, public health officials are urging Americans to not let their guard down yet. And according to New York Presbyterian emergency medicine physician, Dr. Steven McDonald, we should still follow pandemic protocol in the meantime.
“We should absolutely all continue wearing masks, even after we get the vaccine,” McDonald said. “My hospital, for one, has already made that a policy that we're going to enact. And that should be a policy throughout the United States. People who have been vaccinated can still potentially spread the virus, even if they themselves do not get sick or do not necessarily need hospitalization.”
This is because the vaccination process can take months. Right now, only health care workers and those in long-term care facilities, one of the most vulnerable populations, are getting the vaccines as part of Phase-1A of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s protocol. Next are essential workers like teachers, police, firefighters, and transit employees. The final part of phase 1 entails people over the age of 65 and adults with high-risk medical conditions, including those in prisons, getting the vaccine.
‘There’s going to be some difficult weeks ahead’
Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) have both received emergency use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for their COVID-19 vaccines. Now, front-line health care workers and the elderly population are part of the first group getting vaccinated.
The vaccine is said to be up to 95% effective at protecting against the virus, but McDonald highlighted an important part of the data.
“Those only refer to patients who have received both shots,” McDonald said, noting that those receiving the Moderna vaccine get a second dose after 21 days.
“That said, it is thought that the first shot does confer some protection,” he added. “But that does not nearly approach the 95% efficacy that we're speaking about and that you're seeing in the press.”
Because of the extended timeline for vaccines like the one offered by Moderna, it’s estimated that the vaccine rollout won’t be complete until fall 2021.
So in the meantime, public health protocols still need to be followed closely, especially as cases rise across the country. The U.S. recently topped 300,000 deaths as it’s experiencing more cases than at any other point in the pandemic.
“There's still a bit of caution as we watch the rates rise across the United States,” McDonald said. “We watch the hospitalizations rise, and we know that the vaccine is going to take some time to be delivered to the most vulnerable patients. So I'm cautiously excited. There's definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, as you said. But, at the same time, there's going to be some difficult weeks ahead before we have this fully unrolled.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.