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Health Care

Vaccinations Have to Bring Liberation from Strict Lockdown Rules

A healthcare worker draws a coronavirus vaccine from a vial at the Mission Commons assisted living community in Redlands, Calif., January 15, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

More good news: If you are one of the millions of Americans who received one shot of the Pfizer vaccine, a new study suggests that the single dose you received “was shown to be 85 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease 15 to 28 days” later. You should still get that second shot, but that first one gets you more than halfway there.

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, among others, worries that public-health experts (as well as “experts”) are currently attempting to simultaneously communicate two messages. The first is that even those who are fully vaccinated need to consistently wear a mask, keep six feet away from others, avoid crowds, and continue to live with the restrictions that have become commonplace during this pandemic. The second message is that everybody ought to get vaccinated, because it’s so important. Unsurprisingly, the first message is undermining the reception to the second message.

Once you’re fully vaccinated, can you still spread the virus? The short answer is that medical researchers are still trying to nail that down, but the preliminary evidence from one study in Israel is that vaccination reduces the transmission of the virus by a lot — maybe not completely, but something along the lines of 89 percent. We will know more as more people get vaccinated, giving researchers more real-world data. But it makes sense: The immune system in a body that is prepared to fight off SARS-CoV-2 by a vaccine is going to defeat and eliminate the virus quickly, giving the virus much less time to replicate and shed from the vaccinated person’s body. That immune response probably won’t be fast enough or effective enough to completely eliminate any shed viruses in everyone, but it will have a dramatic effect.

As Dr. Paul Sax, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an infectious disease specialist, put it in the New England Journal of Medicine:

There are several good reasons to be optimistic about the vaccines’ effect on disease transmission. First, in the Moderna trial. opens in new tab, participants underwent nasopharyngeal swab PCR testing at baseline and again at week 4, when they returned for their second dose. Among those who were negative at baseline and without symptoms, 39 (0.3%) in the placebo group and 15 (0.1%) in the mRNA-1273 group had nasopharyngeal swabs that were positive for SARS-CoV-2 by PCR at week 4. These data suggest that even after one dose, the vaccine has a protective effect in preventing asymptomatic infection. Among those who do get infection after vaccination, furthermore, it appears that viral loads are lower than in infected people who have not been immunized. opens in new tab.

Second, findings from population-based studies now suggest that people without symptoms are less likely to transmit the virus to others. Third, many vaccines in wide use powerfully protect against both disease and transmission, so much so that infection control is one of the main motivators behind some vaccine policies. opens in new tab.

If we can reduce virus transmission by almost 90 percent, we’re going to see the daily new case number — already down from more than 250,000 in mid January to about 70,000 in the past week — drop like a stone.

Should the fully vaccinated continue to wear masks? For now, sure, but not really because we should worry about the danger of infections to the vaccinated or that small chance of spreading it to others. For at least a little while longer, the fully vaccinated should keep wearing masks because we don’t want a society where our vaccinated go without masks while the unvaccinated have to keep wearing masks. We also don’t want a society where supermarket and other retail employees have to check the mask-free patrons for their vaccination cards.

The vaccination process has not been smooth or easy or user-friendly; getting an appointment is still partially a matter of being in the right place at the right time. If you’re lucky enough to be in the early waves of the vaccinated, you wouldn’t want to gloat to your friends and neighbors who are still waiting.

Right now, millions of Americans who want to get vaccinated cannot yet get an appointment. At some point in the coming months, we will reach the point where everyone who wants to get a vaccine can get one without a wait — and then, I suspect, the public attitudes about a lot of these restrictions will shift dramatically. At that point, the adults who remain unvaccinated will be those who chose not to, or that small minority of people who have severe allergic reactions to the vaccine ingredients.

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