As the Food and Drug Administration prepares to grant emergency authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., Tri-State health officials are preparing for the first doses to arrive as early as Tuesdsay, Dec. 15.
Part of that prep work includes making sure the public knows that, just because someone has been vaccinated does not mean they should stop adhering to masking, social distancing and hand-washing recommendations.
The first batch of doses arriving in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana next week will come from Pfizer, the vaccine the FDA expects to approve as early as Friday evening. Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum with UC Health is helping lead trials on a second vaccine, developed by Moderna. He said the primary focus of his work and other trials has been to measure the drug's effectiveness at protecting subjects from the virus.
Their research is not testing, however, if or how likely it would be for a vaccinated individual, who is later exposed, to transmit the virus.
"Yes, we still need to wear masks and social distance," he said.
Dr. Philip Hartman, a physician with St. Elizabeth Hospitals in Northern Kentucky, said it's not due to any deficiency in Pfizer's vaccine, due to arrive in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana next week. It's more about what researchers don't know.
"We haven't had enough studies to say, 'Hey, this (virus) could hang on to you for just a little while and then pass on to somebody else,'" he told WCPO. "So, until we know more about that we still need you to wear a mask."
According to research provided by St. Elizabeth, COVID-19 vaccines have generally provided a 95% protection rate from internal infection, but that individual's status as a carrier remains unknown.
"Now, we will hopefully get more data as the year moves on, later in 2021, and hopefully we'll find that getting the vaccine does decrease infection," Fichtenbaum said.
Until communities reach herd immunity -- that's when 60-70% of individuals have been vaccinated or exposed to the virus -- they should stay diligent with the lifestyle changes we've grown to know since the pandemic began.