PORTLAND, Ore — The first rounds of COVID-19 vaccines are likely to hit the market this month, but experts still warn that the pandemic is far from over.
KGW set out to VERIFY: Will we still need to wear masks and social distance once vaccines arrive?
Short answer: yes. The population will need to continue taking safety measures, like wearing masks and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others, even when vaccines are distributed.
This is largely because the vaccine rollout will take time, and COVID-19 restrictions will likely be called off when cases decline, not when vaccines are distributed.
States are prioritizing healthcare workers, people in long-term care facilities and their caretakers, essential workers and other populations disproportionately affected by the virus. Experts predict that the general population will not receive the vaccine until the spring.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the two options likely to be distributed this month — need to be kept cold, complicating the distribution process. The Pfizer vaccine will be particularly difficult for states to distribute, as it needs to be kept in ultra-cold freezers that are between minus 70 to 80 degrees Celsius.
This is all to say that it will take time to distribute the vaccine to the entire population, or at least those who will take it. A Pew Research Center poll from September showed that nearly half of U.S. adults would probably or definitely not take the vaccine if it was available at that time.
It will be difficult to know who’s vaccinated and who’s not, making it all the more important to continue following COVID-19 safety protocols to bring down case levels.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are more than 90% effective, but they are not that effective right away or without two doses taken a couple weeks apart. And even with this high efficacy rate, there could still be 5 to 10% of the population where the vaccine is not effective.
Additionally, these first vaccines may only prevent illness. Vaccinated people still may be able to transmit the virus, yet another reason experts urge people to continue wearing masks and social distancing.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s website, “Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The CDC says there is currently not enough information available to say if or when they will stop recommending people wear masks and avoid close contact with others.
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