COVID-19 AND VACCINES, Part V: New Guidelines and Misleading Headlines. See Also: HOPE
Updated: Mar 12, 2021
At long last...some good news! We've passed the one-year mark, both for the pandemic itself and of me writing these essays. I have not been exactly...warm and fuzzy with much of this. I have tried to express my hope where I can, but I have had to confront my own loss of faith in humanity occasionally, and my trepidation at trying to incorporate nuance at the cost of brevity, amid our shorter collective attention span.
This week, however, the CDC released guidelines for what people who are fully vaccinated can do. If you've been looking for reasons, to get vaccinated...these are it.
Definition of fully vaccinated: Two weeks after your last scheduled vaccination (so two weeks after the 2nd dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, two weeks after a single J/J&J vaccine. Again, you are NOT fully vaccinated right after your shot! But two weeks goes by quickly.
Exposure: As defined by the CDC, exposure includes being in close quarters (within 6 feet), providing care at home, direct physical contact (including hugging/kissing), sharing utensils or other things coming in contact with body fluids/mucous membranes/your insides, or getting respiratory droplets (or other bodily fluids) on you (sneezing, coughing, etc.) of/for/with/from someone who is positive for (or soon after tests positive for) COVID-19.
Per the new guidelines, once you are fully vaccinated, if you are exposed to COVID-19, you do not have to quarantine (unless you develop symptoms, because no vaccine is 100%)! You should still take precautions, the reasons for which we'll get into later, but beyond wearing a mask and maintaining that distance, you do not need to quarantine at home. Which is awesome, both for working and for general pandemic boredom!
(It should be noted that in group homes, correctional facilities, detention facilities, or other such group settings/close quarters, exposure of one individual still poses substantial risk and greater concern for spread. Vaccinate prisoners, border detainees, and those in similar places, AND those that monitor them. Also, President Biden: Get. The. Kids. Out. Of. The. Damn. Cages.)
Gathering - the part we've been waiting for!
With other *fully vaccinated* people: Gather! No masks needed. This is not a license to go out and flaunt vaccinated status, but it does mean in-home gatherings or small outings are once again possible with people that maybe were not in your pandemic bubble before.
With people who have not yet received their vaccine: This is also better than it once was, but within reason. We can gather with members of a single household that has not yet been vaccinated, without masks, provided the members of that household are low risk (not elderly, no major comorbidities, not immunocompromised). As opposed to a year ago when "protect the vulnerable" was a widespread but flawed idea (the "vulnerable" were not the only ones at risk, and leaving them in isolation wasn't helpful when asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission becomes so widespread without masks and distancing), here one who is considered "low-risk" can actually have some confidence. This means that grandparents who have received their vaccinations can finally see their yet-to-be-vaccinated children and even young grandchildren, provided those children/grandchildren are taking appropriate precautions and being safe. This is also limited to ONE household.
I know what skeptics will say. "Oh, so the virus just waits until you're going to a second household and then it pounces?" This guidance is because so many people have yet to be vaccinated. It WILL CHANGE. For right now, this is a slow reopen. We're keeping it to one household for the same reason we didn't encourage exceptions to pandemic bubbles before - the more people you interact with without precautions, the more chances of inadvertent spread.
For now, we are still avoiding anything more than a small gathering with these precautions in place. We are not yet encouraging domestic or international travel.
Also, individual workplaces can still set their own rules. If a workplace relaxes mask requirements, please continue to use caution and consideration of others. Don't shame people for wearing their masks, and don't crowd into spaces just yet!
PS: The best vaccination is still the first available to you! Headlines are messing up the interpretation of data. All of the vaccines have been shown to prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death. ALL OF THEM. It's awesome! JJJ had lower efficacy, but it was a bit broader in its definition of moderate and severe disease, AND its trial was later, when the variants had come out. All of the vaccines were designed based on the original On the other side of things, Pfizer and Moderna aren't useless. They did appear to show less neutralizing antibodies against the B-1.351 in vitro (petri dishes - harder to test this in real people), but they still produce high amounts of neutralizing antibodies. So far, it appears they still produce enough antibodies to combat these viruses and prevent severe illness/death. Again, the more we allow this to spread among people who are not yet vaccinated, the more chances for worse variants to appear. So the relaxation of these precautions must be slow and deliberate, but it is definitely happening. Finally!
This is still a pandemic...but this is the beginning of the end. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb says: "You can carefully reengage in things most important to you...Use precautions where you can, when you can. And be mindful towards others." You know, like I keep saying.
Disclaimer: Forgot to mention - these are based on CDC guidelines, and while the preliminary evidence seems good so far, it should be noted that if we see things change, for better or worse, these guidelines will change with them, and so will my own recommendations.