As numerous COVID-19 vaccines are being created and approved, the whole world is paying close attention. For many, vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel. While these vaccines will be a game changer, we have to continue being vigilant, and cannot let our guard down. It is important that we continue to enforce safety measures – including mask wearing, in the months that follow vaccinations.
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On Wednesday, December 2nd, the United Kingdom became the first Western country to authorize emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccination. Headlines were made once again on Tuesday, December 8, when the UK’s first COVID-19 vaccine was administered to 90 year old Margaret Keenan.
Ms. Keenan, originally from Northern Ireland, is now the first person in the world to be given a fully tested, clinically authorized COVID-19 vaccine. Hundreds of other eligible recipients in the UK have already been vaccinated, and these numbers will continue to rise.
While this is great news and very promising, we have to remember that vaccines are not an instant solution, and they should not be treated as such.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines have been found to be safe and around 95% effective in protecting people from catching the COVID-19 virus, but it is still unclear how effective the vaccines will be in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Since the studies were so focused on protecting recipients from catching COVID-19, there is still a possibility that those who are vaccinated can still spread the virus asymptomatically. Vaccine developers will not be able to study this until the vaccine has been distributed on a large scale, which will take time. These vaccines also require two doses, the second one being the strongest. Even after receiving the first dose of the vaccination, people will still not be as protected as they need to be.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released their data on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday, and found that it could take some time for the vaccine to start working after being injected.
Vaccine rollout will not be easy. There are billions of people in the world, and it will take even the more economically developed countries months or years to achieve herd immunity with these vaccines. Vaccine storage will prove to be difficult as well. Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine must be kept at an extremely cold temperature: minus 70 degrees Celsius. Moderna’s vaccine must be kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius, which is a bit easier, like a normal freezer.
Keeping these vaccines frozen does not mean it’s the end of the world – it just means that distributing them will be more difficult and expensive.
Mask wearing has been proven to be effective in stopping and slowing the spread of COVID-19, which is why it is important we wear them both before and after receiving a vaccine. Until vaccine rollouts are widespread, for every person that is vaccinated, there are still many others that have not been, and are still susceptible to the virus that vaccinated people could still potentially spread.
These COVID-19 vaccines have been a huge accomplishment for people everywhere. It is crucial that we continue to make our own contributions to slowing the spread of COVID-19 to make these vaccines as effective as possible by social distancing, mask wearing, and getting tested.
As Ireland begins easing restrictions in time for the upcoming Christmas holiday, we have to remember that COVID-19 is still present, not out of fear, but out of safety concerns. Gather safely and with people you can trust to ensure you enjoy a happy and healthy holiday.
And if you get the chance to get vaccinated, in the words of Margaret Keenan, “Go for it.”