I would like to address two issues with respect to the efforts surrounding the two currently available vaccines against Covid-19. I speak as a retired faculty member of a medical school who has taught the pharmacology of antibiotics and anti-viral drugs. Although not my primary research interest, I have conducted and published research on viruses. I have followed the scientific/medical literature on Covid-19.
The current vaccines are very effective at preventing clinical illness, including severe infections and death. If sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated and immunized against this virus, we will get this pandemic under control, prevent an enormous amount of human misery, prevent thousands of deaths, and prevent future chronic medical conditions which have been linked to Covid-19 infections. We will get back to a normal economy and a normal life.
However, this post-pandemic state will not arise immediately and there are uncertainties, some of which are not “scientific,” but depend on how people behave toward each other. Two points: one scientific and one social.
First, we must understand that although the completed clinical trials show that immunized people are protected against developing clinical disease and dying, it is not established that the protection is long-lasting, nor is it established that immunized people cannot have asymptomatic infections and incapable of transmitting the virus to others. These are questions that time and future research will clarify. The uncertainty regarding the effect of vaccination on ability to transmit virus is a major scientific reason why immunized people need to continue the two proven means of preventing viral spread: masking and social distancing.
Second, for a vaccinated person to continue to wear masks and social distance is just simple courtesy and consideration for others. As someone in their late 70’s and thus at high risk based on age, I currently perceive unmasked persons who comes within six feet of me as a potential threat to my well-being, if not to my life. I do not think that I am unique, or particularly cowardly, in this perception. Even if you are personally protected from getting ill, people you come into daily contact with do not know this. Your close unmasked presence provokes anxiety, if not fear, on the part of many, especially those who are old or more vulnerable to the virus for a variety of other reasons. Wearing a mask and socially distancing seems like such a small ask in order to make others feel and be safe. Our economy will not fully recover until people are not only safe, but feel safe.
As an old person, I will get the vaccine as soon as it is my turn to get vaccinated. Even after I am vaccinated and am presumably highly protected from getting ill from covid-19, I will continue to wear a mask and socially distance when outside my home in order to biologically protect my fellow citizens and, almost as important, to allow them to feel sufficiently safe to resume a more normal life.
-Gene Johnson, Pacific City