Why we must continue to mask and social distance after being vaccinated

While receiving the COVID-19 vaccine — or simply knowing it is available and being administered — may make us hopeful the virus will soon exit our lives, the vaccine is just one additional layer of protection we have against COVID-19.

We must continue practicing our existing safety measures to help slow the pandemic. Mask wearing, social and physical distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when you feel sick still apply whether you have received one or both doses of the vaccine, or whether you have yet to be vaccinated but choose to visit with others who are.

We’re still learning about the COVID-19 vaccines

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), experts need to further analyze COVID-19 vaccines’ protection in real-world conditions to know when it is safe for individuals to stop wearing masks and avoiding visits with others outside their household.

The CDC also has yet to confirm whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus to others, even if you do not get sick.

It can take weeks for the vaccine to reach maximum effectiveness

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in December 2020 that found the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine doesn’t start protecting an individual from COVID-19 until 12 days after the first dose. It reaches 52% effectiveness a few weeks later and does not reach its maximum 95% effectiveness until one week after the second dose.

Moderna reported its vaccine is 51% effective two weeks after the first dose an 94% effective two weeks after the second dose.

Widespread community transmission continues

Before COVID-19, caregivers wore masks when caring for patients admitted with influenza — despite already receiving the flu vaccine themselves. Although caregivers have been and will be vaccinated for COVID-19, there is still widespread community transmission of the virus. For this reason, we will continue to follow Universal Pandemic Precautions (UPP) to add another layer of protection for our patients and caregivers working in clinical areas.

Our existing PPE guidelines, which include UPP, are and will continue to be effective in helping us prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the vaccine is distributed in our communities.

Herd immunity is still months away

The CDC states, “Herd immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or they’ve been vaccinated.”

The percentage of people who need protection to achieve herd immunity varies by disease, and experts are still learning to determine what that is for COVID-19. No matter the percentage, it will take time to make the number of vaccines required to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 — let alone make them accessible and distribute them to the public.

In the meantime, each of us has a role to play to help slow the spread

Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Avoid large gatherings and close contact with others outside your household. Wash your hands often. Stay home when you feel sick.

We’re in this together. Thank you for your continued support of these safety measures as more caregivers continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.