The elderly are one of the priority groups for vaccination. After vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that people over 75 years of age-and other types of essential workers-will be vaccinated next. In an increasing number of states, the elderly are already vaccinated or about to be vaccinated.
What happens if older people are vaccinated but their children and grandchildren are not vaccinated? Can grandparents visit with their family safely now, or still need to take certain precautions? We sought guidance from Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst, who is an emergency doctor and a visiting professor at the George Washington University Milken School of Public Health.
After the second dose, it may take two to three weeks to reach the optimal level of immune protection.
Suppose you have received a dose of vaccine. After a week or two, you will have a certain degree of immunity, but if you are exposed to the coronavirus, you will definitely get Covid-19. A few weeks after the second injection, studies have shown that the vaccine is approximately 95% effective. This is a very high level of protection, but not 100%. Therefore, even if you get two doses of the vaccine at the same time, you can still get Covid-19, but the chances are much lower. Moreover, if you do get a vaccine, based on what we have learned from clinical trials, you may be less likely to get the disease compared to no vaccine.
CNN: Once adults have received the second dose, three weeks have passed, can they visit their grandson?
Wen: Maybe. The answer is not as simple as saying that vaccinated people can return to their pre-pandemic life. This is why.
First, the vaccine is not 100% effective. People who are vaccinated still have a chance to get Covid-19. This is especially true because many parts of the country are suffering from a large number of infections. The rate of community transmission is very high, so there is still a chance of contracting coronavirus even after vaccination.
Second, it has not been proven that vaccines can reduce the spread of the virus. We don’t know whether the vaccinated person may still be a carrier of the virus even if they are not sick. This means that if you are exposed to the coronavirus, you may be protected, but you may still be a carrier of the virus. When you get together with your loved ones, you can spread it to unvaccinated people.
If your grandchildren live in the area, you can definitely see them safely, they are 6 feet apart. If you want to see them indoors, there will be a certain degree of risk. Compared with unvaccinated, the risk is much lower, but this risk still exists. For families that have not been vaccinated, you may still be at risk because you may be an asymptomatic carrier and infect them.
If you really want to stay indoors with your grandchildren, the safest way is still to isolate everyone for at least 10 days and reduce the risk of these 10 days. Isolation for 7 days and a negative test is also an option, but everyone must also be isolated-a negative test is not enough.
CNN: If I still need to quarantine before meeting people, what is the point of a vaccine?
Wen: So far, we know through clinical trials that vaccines do provide a lot of protection. It will also make you worry. It reduces your chance of contracting the virus and making it seriously ill. We know that the elderly and people with chronic diseases have a greatly increased risk of serious illness and death, and vaccines will greatly reduce these consequences.
Since vaccination can indeed greatly reduce the risk, this is your personal judgment on which activities you value most, and you may want to consider bringing them back. Maybe hugging your grandson is really important to you. If you do, it is not a zero-risk activity for you or for them. It’s still best that everyone wear a mask when hugging, and it’s best to do it outdoors, and ideally, keep the two faces away from each other.
Eating together may be really important to you. I still recommend not to use different plates, not to buffet dinner, and to eat outdoors instead of indoors.
If you are far away from your grandchildren, consider travelling to see if they are extremely important to you. Of course, continue to abide by all social isolation and cover-up rules. And be aware that you still have the risk of acquiring and spreading the virus.
Remember, the risks add up. Vaccination can reduce the overall risk, but it does not mean that you should do all high-risk activities now. Maybe you now choose to have dinner with your grandchildren and hug them. Don’t decide to go to an indoor restaurant with friends to a crowded cinema. You should still try to reduce the risks in your life.
CNN: What if I also have friends vaccinated? Can I see them indoors without a mask?
Wen: After everyone takes the medicine and waits for a few weeks, it may be safe to look at other people who have also been vaccinated.
To some extent, you will see the vaccine as if you were in a quarantine area. If both parties are isolated, the risk of meeting each other safely may be minimal. Likewise, if both parties receive the vaccine, you may be able to see each other relatively safely. However, because we do not know whether the person who received the vaccine may still be an asymptomatic carrier, if you engage in dangerous behavior, you may infect other people with whom you have close contact with the vaccine.
Suppose you live with someone who has not been vaccinated. You don’t want to engage in activities that might acquire the coronavirus and spread it to others. This includes seeing other people who have been vaccinated but are not wearing a mask-according to what we know now, they may have contracted the virus and spread it to you, or you can pass it on to people who live with you. It is still a good idea to proceed with caution.
CNN: What will it take to socialize us as we did before Covid-19?
Wen: Once we get herd immunity, the end of Covid-19 may come. We don’t know exactly how many people need to be immunized to achieve this, although experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci estimate that this may require up to 85% of Americans to be vaccinated. With this level of immunity in the community, the coronavirus will have nowhere to spread and may basically die out.
So far, the introduction of vaccines has been fast, and it will take some time to get close to this level. In addition, clinical trials for children have just begun, so it may not be possible to vaccinate children until summer or autumn.
We must be vaccinated in different ways. Vaccination is not passed “as far as I can”, but another tool to reduce our risk. Wearing a mask is another such tool, such as staying away from society, we hope to continue to use as many tools as possible to protect ourselves.
Vaccination helps our community to make our cattle immune faster. It does give us permission to do more of the things we like-although we must still strive to be as safe as possible.
CNN: When will your children meet their grandparents?
Wen: We are planning to have my father visit from Vancouver, Canada in the summer or early fall of 2021. My husband’s mother is in Johannesburg, South Africa. If everyone is vaccinated in December, we hope to visit her during Christmas 2021. They have not seen me 3 years old for more than a year. This will be the first time they have met this 9-month-old baby. We can’t wait-although we will be patient and stay safe during this time!