As I walked through the back door of the TECH Center last Wednesday, I sighed a breath of relief through my mask. The sun was shining, it was 55 degrees and I was fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
After one year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, I was eligible to receive the vaccine through my internship. I felt like a sense of normalcy was finally within my grasp.
Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet.
Until scientists have confirmed if people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus, we should practice the safe behaviors that are proven to be effective, like wearing a mask and social distancing. Being vaccinated is not a free pass to immediately revert to pre-pandemic actions and potentially put those who aren’t vaccinated at risk.
Scientists are studying if people who are vaccinated can shed viral particles, meaning they would show no symptoms but be contagious, NPR reported.
Because we don’t yet know whether vaccinated people can spread the disease, we should act like it, wrote Aimee Palumbo, an assistant epidemiology professor, in an email to The Temple News.
“Overall rates have been coming down and should continue to do so as more and more people get vaccinated, but right now community spread is also still high enough that we should remain concerned about large crowds and especially close interactions with strangers,” Palumbo wrote.
Students are more likely to break COVID-19 rules because they’re still processing the pandemic and the mixed messages related to the safety of in-person classes, CNN reported.
Asymptomatic carriers take fewer precautions because they are unaware of their status, according to the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.
Despite being fully vaccinated, Anaiyah Morgan, a sophomore public health major, wants to set an example for others who aren’t vaccinated yet by still following COVID-19 protocol.
“I’m still wearing my mask, staying away from parties and not traveling to play my role in the process of getting to the light at the end of the tunnel that is this pandemic,” Morgan said.
Philadelphia is currently in Phase 1B, vaccinating frontline health care workers, essential workers and people with chronic health conditions. Students who fall under one of these categories were eligible to receive their vaccine through the College of Public Health’s vaccine clinic on Feb. 17, Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 or the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium 24-hour pop-up at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20.
Although it’s likely that two vaccinated people can hang out unmasked, we don’t know, said Jason Gallagher, a clinical professor in the School of Pharmacy.
“It’s not wise to just go into the world and say you’re good,” Gallagher added. “People should think in terms of who they interact with rather than if they’ll get sick.”
When I heard I still had to follow pandemic protocol, I wanted to throw my hands in the air, wondering what’s the point of getting vaccinated if I still have to wear a mask and keep my distance. But it will pay off in the long run when we can eventually ease restrictions.
While I was initially confused, I realized the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines do not reach their peak effectiveness until two weeks after the second dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As more students have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, their attitudes will change, and they can calculate their risk and make decisions differently than they would have a few months ago. But for now, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“We want to encourage people to get the vaccine since that really is the only way that we will get out of this without additional excess hospitalizations and deaths, so positive messages that vaccination will allow us to slowly get back to normal are needed,” Palumbo wrote.