No ditching the mask just yet post-vaccine, UVA infectious disease expert says

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As you get your coronavirus vaccine in the next few months, you may wonder how long it lasts and how much it protects you from variants? There is no clear answer to those questions, which is why experts say safety precautions can’t be abandoned.

The vaccine is a symbol for many of the beginning of the end of the no-longer-new normal, but new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the masks are here to stay for a little while longer.

“I recognize that that’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for me as well,” UVA Health Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Patrick Jackson said. “I think there’s a few reasons why that guidance is still in place.”

Virginia is nearing 13% of its population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As that number continues to tick higher, doctors say we are not out of the woods just yet.

“On the one hand, we don’t really know how well the vaccines prevent us from being able to transmit the virus from person to person. I think we’re going to learn more about that, too,” Dr. Jackson explained. “We don’t know how long the protection from the vaccine is going to last, and we just really need to do those studies. The vaccines haven’t been out for long enough for us to have that. Three, I think we’re learning more about the interaction of these vaccines with the different strains of COVID-19 that we’re seeing in the population.”

While we know vaccines are good at keeping people from getting severe cases, questions still remain about how they stop transmission of the coronavirus.

“There’s a little bit of data from the Moderna trial, and also from the experience in Israel vaccinating that population, that there is some protection,” Jackson said. “We don’t really have a firm number on how high that protection will end up being.”

New guidance from the CDC is offering a glimmer of hope, and a small return to normalcy.

“The new CDC guidance is that people who’ve been fully vaccinated - that is they’ve gone through both of their vaccines and that 14 days after the second dose - don’t need to quarantine if they’ve had a potential exposure,” Jackson explained. “I think that really speaks to our increasing confidence that there is a significant amount of protection in terms of preventing people from getting the virus at all, in addition to protection from people getting sick.”

The majority of infectious disease doctors believe COVID-19 will stick around like the flu, but because it mutates slower than the flu seasonal shots might be more effective.

“Hopefully, the vaccines that we’re receiving and vaccines that may be modified in the future will give us longer lasting immunity than we see with the seasonal flu shot. But that all remains to be seen,” Jackson said.

It’s important to remember that even if you are vaccinated, there is still a chance that you catch the virus – whether the original strain or one of the variants. If you do test positive post-vaccination, you still need to quarantine as usual.

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