Oak Forest’s Andrea Hindi is sending her two kids back to in-person school on Monday for the first time since last March. She is also making doctor’s appointments for things she let go over the past year.
The reason? Hindi is one of the 14 percent of people in the U.S. who are fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist with Memorial Hermann Health System.
Heights resident Jenna Taylor said hugging her fully vaccinated parents is the best part about being vaccinated.
“I'm also more comfortable about meeting with friends outside and simple things, like going to the grocery store, feel way less stressful now,” Taylor said. “It's like having a weight lifted that you didn't even know was there.”
While much is going right with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a need for caution, according to Yancey.
She said that is due to three factors that account for a recent uptick in cases across the country. The first is Spring Break, “which didn’t do us any favors,” Yancey said. The second is a premature relaxation of COVID safeguards by states and individuals. The third is a spread of more highly infectious COVID variants.
Yancey said all of these things have some healthcare professionals concerned about a spring surge of the coronavirus.
Still, for those who are two weeks past their second dose, or single dose in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there have been a lot of sweet reunions taking place, especially with elderly family members who were among the first vaccinated.
For those who are fully vaccinated – and past that two-week window – the restrictions are more relaxed.
Yancey said her vaccinated parents are coming to visit for the first time in a year. Yancey and her husband are vaccinated, but their kids are not. Because it is just one household gathering, of all vaccinated adults, they will visit unmasked.
Yancey made the point that if she was including her brother’s household in the visit, or if one of the children visiting was in a high-risk category, the masks would stay on.
“There’s quite of bit of nuance,” said Yancey, who referred to the CDC guidelines as somewhat of a moving target. “We are going to need masks until we don’t need them anymore. (The guidelines) will be different each month.”
Outdoor dining, right now, is pretty safe, Yancey said. Indoor dining is not. Also, she said gyms are to be avoided.
“The one thing we’ve learned is that ventilation matters,” she said. “I use the example of someone lighting up a cigarette on a patio. The breeze will likely blow it away. But if the person lighting up was inside, the smoke would start to affect people. (COVID) works the same way.”
Yancey said other relaxations of rules involve travel. Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to self-quarantine after U.S. travel, she said, while international travelers who are fully vaccinated should get tested three to five days after travel but don’t need to self-quarantine.
Vaccinated may not be spreaders
Yancey said most of the studies that have come out in recent weeks show that fully vaccinated people are not spreading the virus. While the scientific community doesn’t yet fully know if it is possible for a vaccinated person to transmit COVID, Yancey said more certainty on the matter will be forthcoming in the next month.
Yancey said there are also some people – most with compromised immune systems – who are contracting the virus after their vaccine. She said that is not unusual.
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” she said. “The measles vaccine is one of our most effective at 96 percent. But that still means four out of 100 people get it.”
Yancey also made the point that vaccines also protect others as much as they protect the individual, with the idea of protecting the most vulnerable.
It will take around 70-80 percent of the country getting vaccinated to get close to herd immunity, according to Yancey. And although there are an unknown number of people who have had COVID, only a certain percentage of them will have natural immunity, she said. Yancey notes that 100 percent of the population will at some point be exposed to COVID, either through getting the potentially deadly virus or the safe vaccine.
Pfizer finished a successful trial of its vaccine on teens and is going to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to have it approved, while Moderna is in trials for a vaccine for those age 12 and under, according to Yancey. Making it challenging from a trial perspective is the fact kids are less likely to show symptomatic disease, she said, and the frequent nose swabs are not enjoyable.
Yancey said it is still unknown whether COVID will go away like SARS 1 or be a yearly virus like the flu, but she councils those who remain unvaccinated to hang on a little longer until they can get their vaccine.
“We’ve done it for the last year,” she said. “We’ve gotten good at pandemic precautions.”
Oak Forest’s Beth Williams has one more week to get to the two-week, post-shot mark.
“I made a hair appointment for the first time since January 2020,” she said. “I did not feel comfortable to go before.”
Garden Oaks resident Carrie Hardaker said, for now, she and her family only gather with friends who are also vaccinated.
“We still won’t do large indoor gatherings with unvaccinated friends, concerts, sporting events or airplane travel,” she said. “I suspect that will change by summer, though. I won’t stop wearing a mask until it’s deemed safe to do so by the CDC.”