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This is Our Shot

How COVID-19 vaccinations can open doors

Wouter Rietsema, MD, Vice President Population Health and Information Services, AHMC & CVPH

If we all want to get back to the things we’ve missed most since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s time to shift our thinking about what getting vaccinated means.

As COVID-19 spread across the globe, those of us in medicine believed that a vaccine would even-tually be our way out – a return to normalcy. As it turned out, three have been developed and approved for use.

They work tremendously well in preventing the worst outcomes from this virus: hospitalization and death. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in Phase 3 clinical trials, only one person contracted a severe COVID-19 case. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was also studied in South Africa while that variant was the dominant strain, resulted in zero hospitalizations or deaths.

This is data worthy of shouting from the rooftops. Despite these impressive results, public messaging has been mixed at times. Instead of focusing on the spectacular effec-tiveness of the vaccines and what they mean for us now and in the future, messages from as high up as the federal government have stressed caution.

Because there is not an immediate return to normal – we still need to wear masks in public, schools are not fully reopened and gatherings remain limited – I worry fewer people will be motivated to get vaccinated. We are at a critical crossroads with the vaccination rollout now. Supply is ramping up and eligibility is expanding, which means it is crucial to understand the advantages that getting vaccinated provides us.

Being fully vaccinated, which is two weeks after your second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson shot, opens up doors that have been closed for more than a year now.

It means you can:

  • Feel incredibly better about your chances of not getting severely ill or dying.
  • See your parents in person, especially if everyone involved is fully vaccinated, and your chil-dren can hug their grandparents - all without wearing a mask.
  • Visit with a small group of friends under the same circumstances.
  • Go out to eat at a restaurant instead of getting takeout is a possibility (depending on your risk tolerance).
  • Take pride in knowing you are contributing to this community’s effort to put an end to the pandemic’s hold on all that we hold dear.

Since my wife and I have been fully vaccinated, we feel safe hugging our unvaccinated children – something much needed after the past year. Our risk of getting infected is very low, and their risk of getting sick is even lower. For us, that is an acceptable risk to take. We now spend time with fully vaccinated friends. We also go out to eat. Some of us may not feel as comfortable with those things, and that is okay. The point is that little by little, vaccination allows us to feel more normal.

Even with growing optimism, it is important to understand that nothing is 100 percent. Until the vast majority of us have received our shots and we learn more about the impact of COVID-19 variants, it is still necessary to follow basic public health guidelines outside our homes. My wife and I continue to wear a mask in public and when we cannot socially distance safely, and every-one else should, as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests everyone avoid medium or large-sized gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces. It is also still advised to wear a mask and watch your distance around people who are unvaccinated and at increased risk of severe illness.

Those guidelines and restrictions will likely also loosen in the weeks ahead if we continue to do all of these things. The key to unlocking those restrictions that have caused us to miss so much lies with each of us. As more of us get vaccinated, more doors will open. More businesses can welcome us, more memories with family and friends can be creat-ed, and more vacations can happen.

There is a lot to look forward to. This is our shot, and I hope we take it.