Dr. Robin’s Covid-19 Updates

Grandparents Unmasked? Friends without Bandanas?

…..Negotiating Through a Post-Vaccine World

A mask and a prayer (photo by Robin Schoenthaler)

There are now over 74 million vaccinated people in the US (and 300 million in the world), most of whom are very excited to be returning to a post-vaccinated life slowly starting to resemble some kind of normal.

Those of us who haven’t gotten our shots yet are trying to contain our VUVE (Very Understandable Vaccine Envy) — the “2021 Version of FOMO” — and are counting the days til it’s our turn.

But many of us are confused or concerned about how we should behave after we are fully vaccinated (which is defined as 14 days after your last dose).

This is what we know about all the vaccines now that eight gajillion needles have gone into arms:

  • They are safe

This is what we know very clearly from the science on how they make vaccinated people safer:

  • Vaccinated people have greatly reduced chances of catching Covid

This is what science is increasingly clear about:

  • Vaccinated people seem to rarely get any cases of Covid, and most are mild

Rarely.” This does not of course mean “Never” but it looks like it’s a low enough rate so this particular worry about catching Covid from a vaccinated person can go down several notches on our Worry Bead List.

Now, no vaccine is a Guaranteed One Hundred Percent Total Body Armor Protection. The only person who gets to use a Guaranteed One Hundred Percent Total Body Armor Protection is Robert Downey Jr in his “Iron Man” movies. And the movies aren’t real life.

So we still have to take precautions.

Bottom line:

1) There is still a small chance we can catch Covid even once vaccinated. But it is likely the ensuing case will be mild, and the vaccine will keep us, as Aunt Petunia’s doctor promised, “Out of the hospital, out of the ICU, and out of the morgue.”

2) There’s still a small chance a vaccinated person could give somebody else the rare case they happened to have the bad luck to catch.

3) So, if that vaccinated person catches that rare case — and then ends up on the off chance giving to somebody — there is a small chance that case the unvaccinated person catches could be serious.

So this is why vaccinated people still need to sometimes mask up — to protect the unvaccinated from serious disease, especially:

  • people who are high risk

But increasingly the science seems to show it’s safe enough for those of us who are vaccinated to hang around other vaccinated people without masks. Even indoors! Even eating!

And the CDC says it’s okay for vaccinated people to hang with unvaccinated people if they’re low-risk and in a single household.

And this includes the kids. So:

  • You and your kids (when unvaccinated and low risk) can visit the vaccinated grandparents.

And there is currently nothing on the variant horizon changing any of these guidelines at this point, by which I mean right now (despite the scary headlines) there is no known variant looking like it has scary vaccine escape properties that alters the risks here.

So this is an AMAZING, ASTONISHING change for us.

And maybe not something any of us can change easily overnight. It might not be an immediate on/off light switch for everybody.

On a walk with a vaccinated friend last week I said, “You know, we really can take off our masks.” So we did, laughing, nervous. Ah, freedom! Inhale/exhale. Inhale/exhale.

We looked at each other in astonishment (she didn’t look a day older; I, on the other hand…).

Within five minutes, we both had pulled our masks back up, her before me, laughing at ourselves. We were just not quite ready — it’s going to us take a little bit of time to adjust after a solid year of mask conditioning.

On the other hand there’s Aunt Petunia who has always been able to turn on a dime. Fourteen days to the dot after her vaccine she went to Marshall’s and Total Wine and Cousin Beatrice’s Bingo Game at the Nursing Home. Aunt Petunia always was the spry one.

But the reality is my friend and I — now that we’re both 14 days past our last vaccine — really are very safe walking outside unmasked and even eating inside together!

The chances we could be infected: small.

The chances we could have asymptomatic disease: small.

The chances we could give each other Covid: super small.

The chances we could give each other serious disease: tiny.

Not Zero Percent but tiny.

A lot of people say, “Oh, well if it’s not Zero Percent, then no way will I take a chance!”

But the reality is nothing is EVER Zero Percent. Since the dawn of time, every time we walk out of the house we accept some risk that somebody somewhere could be contagious with something and incurring that risk is just part of being human.

There was always the chance your office mate would give you their flu; or you would get a nasty Norovirus diarrhea bug on a cruise ship; or your son would get a snotty nose and fever and three days later his sister would have a snotty nose and run a fever, too.

What’s hard now is the fact that for the past year most of us have tried to create a Zero Percent Risk World. And if we were lucky enough to have lives where we could be super safe most of the time it maybe worked, and we stayed uninfected. But the cost was most of our normal human interactions.

So now it’s time when the vaccinated of the world can resume those normal human interactions — and return to our previously scheduled lives — with the other vaccinated and with low risk non-vaccinated people. But the cost will be expanding our Zero Percent Risk tolerance a little outward.

It’s a new day. We’ll get used to it. But not in the first five minutes. Unless we’re Aunt Petunia.

{Robin Schoenthaler, MD is a Boston-based cancer doctor who has been writing straightforward fact-based no-blame-no-rumors-all-science-all-the-time essays about Covid-19 since March 2020.}

Covid-Translator. Cancer doc: ~Three decades at MGH. Writer and storyteller: Moth Grand Slam Champion. Mom. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome, robinshome2@gmail.com

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