If the most vulnerable are now protected due to the vaccine, why can’t we go back to normal life?

Infection and Spread Vaccines

A: We SO feel the yearning behind this question.

The sacrifices made, especially by young people, are heart-breaking and real. Please hang in there–we are SO close to getting through the last mile AND the last inch of this pandemic. But we’re not there yet.

In the US and the UK, vaccines have rolled out at impressive speeds. But there are several reasons why we shouldn’t entirely let up on the brake pedal of prevention measures just yet.

➡️ VACCINES + PREVENTION MEASURES= 🔥EXPONENTIAL DECAY🔥. The moment we’ve all been waiting for– when the downward part of the epidemic curve becomes so steep infections get cut in half every few days instead of doubling!!

What if we could do something to PUSH the COVID case rollercoaster over the edge even more quickly? (Spoiler alert: WE CAN!)

Vaccines don’t just protect individuals, they protect populations. By reducing infections and transmission, the virus embers start to run out of fresh tinder. This reduces the Reproductive or Rt rate of the virus, since the virus will hit more firewalls and not infect as many new people. When combined with prevention measures like distancing, masking, and proper ventilation, the virus will hit even more dead-ends and begin the longed-for death spiral to fewer and fewer cases. Without continued prevention measures, this downward slope well get less steep, dragging out our period of #pandexit uncertainty.

The US is at a high plateau of 60,000 cases and ~700 deaths per day. Continued surging of vaccines coupled with precautions could finally send that roller coaster down it’s steep descent and save MANY more lives.

We now have 2 good examples of countries with high levels of vaccination coupled with strong mitigation measures seeing cases, hospitalizations and deaths drop precipitously.

In the UK, daily COVID-19 deaths have plummeted to single digits from a high of 1800/day in late January. While vaccines have surely played an important role, the country has also been under strict lockdown restrictions since early January. Restrictions are loosening only very gradually, providing a much better chance of avoiding a resurgence of the virus.

Israel was one of the first countries to reach very high levels of vaccination coverage, rolling out in the midst of a big surge in cases. Cases are now low even in younger age groups without high vaccine coverage. After a period of lockdown from January to March, life is largely back to normal and cases are staying down. 💥 Israel recently recorded 0 daily COVID deaths for the first time in 10 months.

➡️ NOT ALL THE VULNERABLE ARE PROTECTED: In the US as of April 26th, roughly 19% of adults aged 65+ still had not received at least one dose of vaccine, rising to 39% for ages 50-64. With cases still relatively high, this means tens of MILLIONS of people remain at high risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and death.

The UK used a stricter age-prioritization strategy in its roll-out coupled with a prioritization of first doses, resulting in a (quite stunning IMHO) 95% of adults ages 50+ having received at least one dose of vaccine. Second doses for priority groups are now rolling out, which are especially important to give full protection to older adults and those who are immunosuppressed.

Immunosuppressed individuals don’t always mount as strong an immune response to vaccinations, and there is evidence this is true for COVID-19 vaccines is solid organ transplant patients and those with hematological cancers. These individuals still benefit from the vaccine, but they also need the additional protection of “the herd” when vaccination rates are high, and cases becomes low.

➡️ VARIANTS: While the vaccines are showing good protection against the new variants, (especially B.1.1.7) in various lab tests, the more opportunities the virus has to replicate the more chances it has to win the mutation lottery (meaning something that could evade our natural or vaccine-induced immunity). Vaccines are also great but not perfect. “Breakthrough” infections can happen, albeit at a low rate. The quicker we can snuff out this fire, the less chance for variants and breakthrough infections to arise (Note: this is especially true globally!).

➡️ LONG COVID: Even if you are young and healthy, you still don’t want to get COVID-19– especially when the finish line is in sight. According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates based on routine random sampling of the country for COVID-19, almost 14% of those testing positive for COVID-19 still report symptoms more than 12 weeks later, and the rates are sizeable even at younger ages—8% for kids ages 2-16 and *18%* for young adults ages 25-34. There is a lot we don’t know yet about “Long Covid”, but what we do know is sobering enough to make avoiding infection an easy choice.

While all those 16+ are currently eligible for vaccines in the US, this still leaves younger children, some of whom are in more vulnerable categories, unvaccinated. In the UK, those in their 40s are currently receiving first doses, but all those younger will still be at risk of infection and Long Covid.


💥 Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic.
💥 In countries with high vaccination rates, maintaining precautions for another 6-8 weeks could make a huge difference in accelerating declines in cases and deaths.
💥 Young people—we SEE the sacrifices you have made this year to protect both strangers and loved ones. To speed up the return to normal life:
1.) get vaccinated when you are able
2.) #StaySMART as you ease into socializing with unvaccinated peers—avoid crowded places, get outside, get tested, wear masks, and ventilate indoors.

Those Nerdy Girls

Further reading:

ONS report on Long Covid symptoms

US vaccinations by age

England vaccinations by age

Previous DP posts:

Breakthrough infections

Vaccines in the immunosuppressed:

What can vaccinated people do?

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