As national numbers of COVID vaccinations continue to climb, many of us are wondering when we can finally shed the mask and abandon social distancing. While the vaccine means that returning to normal closer than even, there are three reasons why we have to continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and keep washing hands and surfaces for the time being.
#1 Vaccines don't mean you won't get sick, they mean you won't get AS sick. A vaccine is not like a science-fiction forcefield that kills the virus before it reaches you. Instead, the vaccine prepares your body to fight the virus, if you happen to become infected with it. And even with the vaccines' 95% immunity, there is still a slight chance you will get more seriously ill, so it's safest to continue to follow COVID guidelines until we achieve herd immunity.
#2 You could infect someone else (who doesn't have the vaccine yet). Since the vaccine doesn't prevent the virus from infecting you (but it does help you fight it), it is possible that, while infected, you pass the virus onto someone else. That person may not yet have the vaccine, and so does not have the protection to fight the virus. Until more people have the vaccine, there is still a threat of transmission.
#3 It will take several months for the United States to achieve herd immunity. When enough people get the vaccine, with most estimates being between 60-70% of the population, the threat of transmission goes way down. But this will take time. While around 10% of the US population has currently been vaccinated, this same percentage is not reflected in all communities. Some communities have much higher vaccination rates, while some have barely met 1%. So until that point, we wait and follow COVID guidelines.
So for the next few months, let's all stay the course and keep wearing our masks, practicing social distancing, and washing our hands and surfaces. We are close to the finish line, but we all need to work together so that we can cross with fewer losses.