Now is the time to be optimistic about the COVID-19 pandemic. Armed with vaccination and knowledge, you should plan to hug your grandchildren and grandparents, eat dinner with your neighbor and close friends, and see a return to some semblance of “normal life” in the very near future – maybe even now. Let’s clarify a few points about vaccinations and social distance guidelines that might be confusing.
- Get vaccinated as soon as you can. Each of the vaccines currently available in the United States are extremely safe, extremely effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 or death from it, and at reducing transmission. Vaccines are the pathway to safety and a return to normalcy. The “best” vaccine is the vaccine that you can get ASAP. The concerns you read about on the internet and hear on the news are just noise. Allergic reactions are rare and no more common that with other vaccines. Side-effects – a sore arm, feeling achy or having a headache the next day – are similar to other vaccinations, tend to be mild, and generally resolve in 24-36 hours. Think of them as evidence that your immune system is working! The worries simply have not panned out. I recommend vaccination to all of my patients that qualify for them, without any doubts. The biggest risk of vaccinations is people not getting vaccinated because of misinformation.
- Mindfully return to a social life. The vaccines are so effective that the United States Centers for Disease Control has started to allow people to socialize again! People who are fully vaccinated (i.e., 2 weeks after their final vaccine dose), can visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They also can visit unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing, too. The key points that give you some freedom are (i) being fully vaccinated, (ii) when mixing with unvaccinated people, they must be from a single household (iii) not include any people at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease. Keep the gatherings small and private. Of course, if anyone is showing signs or symptoms of being sick, contact should be avoided. Attention grandparents – if you are fully vaccinated, you can hug your grandchildren (unless they are at high risk, which is unlikely). Children and grandchildren, you can hug your vaccinated parents and grandparents. You even can have them over for a Passover seder if you only have one household of unvaccinated people over at a time.
- Continue to wear a well-fitted mask (i.e., a surgical mask with a mask fitter or a snug cloth mask over it) and to socially distance when you are in public or interacting with non-vaccinated people at high risk. When in situations that don’t fit the visiting guidance above, make sure the spaces you are in with non-vaccinated people are not crowded, are well-ventilated, and if you can, stay outside.
Please avoid traveling for the time being, because that is how the new variants of concern spread. The single best way to fight the variants is to get vaccinated. Following the precautions above make a big difference, too, because if the disease doesn’t spread, the variants don’t spread and new mutations cannot emerge.
Thanks to the scientists, health care workers, public health officials, and the federal government. COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the decline. There will be enough vaccine for every U.S. adult to be have had their first shot by the end of May, and most of America will have had at least one shot by then.
With warm weather and people getting vaccinated, the future is very bright and we are on the cusp of getting our lives back. You are powerful: by getting vaccinated and following the guidance above – you have the power to save another person’s life. That’s a mitzvah. Be a mitzvah maker.
Dr. James H. Stein is an attending cardiologist and director of Preventive Cardiology, and is the UW Health Robert Turell Professor in Cardiovascular Research, at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. Stein’s opinions are his own and he is not speaking on behalf of UW Health, the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, or any other organization.