If you have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, you may think you have an immediate invisible shield around you.
The COVID vaccines are highly effective, but like many vaccinations, it takes weeks for the immune system to build the antibodies that block viral infections. And since the COVID vaccines require two doses, it takes a bit longer.
For both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, you have to wait several weeks after the first shot to get the second shot. (The Pfizer shots are given three weeks apart; the Moderna shots are given four weeks apart.) Full protection won’t occur until five or six weeks after the first shot.
Additionally, because of high demand and low supply, many people also have yet to receive the COVID vaccination, leaving millions unprotected. That’s why it is critical you still wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands frequently.
How do vaccines work?
No vaccine – even the yearly flu shot – is 100 percent effective. That goes for the COVID-19 vaccine, too, especially since it must be carefully stored and transported.
Some vaccinations, like the measles vaccine, prevents viruses from causing infection. That means people don’t spread the infection or develop symptoms.
However, most vaccines – like yearly flu shots – can prevent people from becoming severely ill, but it may not give 100% protection. A person may still get the flu but have mild symptoms. If that happens, they can pass the virus to other people, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Research is ongoing about whether COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission from person to person. We do know that it takes a few weeks for a person to develop immunity after COVID-19 vaccination. “It is possible that a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection,” the CDC states.
Viruses also mutate. Flu strains change yearly. That’s why you get a yearly flu shot. The COVID-19 virus is changing with genetic variants of the coronavirus. These new variants may be highly more contagious, according to medical experts. So far, according to the CDC, the current vaccinations appear to work against these new strains.
If you have received a COVID-19 vaccination, continue wearing a mask to protect those around you in case transmission is possible.
Keep your distance
It may be tempting to want to hug your loved ones once you get the vaccine. Don’t.
You won’t have full immunity yet, and you could still get sick with COVID-19. Remember, some people may have COVID-19, be asymptomatic and unknowingly transmit the virus. Other people may be pre-symptomatic and not have symptoms yet. They, too, are contagious.
Be patient, vigilant and pro-active. Getting a vaccination when it is your turn is one of the most powerful tools we have to combat COVID-19.