In the nearly yearlong battle against the novel coronavirus, hopes of ending the pandemic are riding with the development of COVID-19 vaccines, two of which have already seen emergency approval in the U.S. and have since been rolled out across the country — albeit slowly.
Many health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities have received either the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, the first to receive emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or the one developed by Moderna, the second to be granted such approval from the federal agency. More vaccinations are to follow, with the Trump administration, in an effort to speed the efforts, asking states to widen distribution to include people ages 65 and older, and those at high risk for severe illness by releasing second doses that were being reserved for those who’ve already received the first shot.
Both vaccines proved highly effective in late-stage clinical trials, and so far, officials with Pfizer have voiced confidence in its vaccine’s ability to protect against a new, more contagious coronavirus strain while also touting the flexibility of the technology should a tweak need to be made. (This jab, as well as the one from Moderna, was created using groundbreaking mRNA technology, what some have called “21st-century science.”)
But as the long-awaited rollout of the vaccines continues, an important question remains: Is it safe to see friends and family after receiving the jab, especially if those friends and family have not yet been vaccinated?
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, with experts expecting to see more than 90% efficacy in preventing symptomatic coronavirus infection roughly a week following the second dose. But note the keywords there: symptomatic infection.
“We don’t know yet about the spread of asymptomatic infection [following vaccination],” Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer of the health care website WebMD, told Fox News via email. “Studies are currently being conducted and I suspect we will know in a couple of months.”
While both Pfizer and Moderna have said their vaccines are about 95% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19 symptoms, as of now, there isn’t much evidence on whether these jabs will put a stop to asymptomatic infection and transmission, which account for more than half of all coronavirus cases, a recent model from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.
For the Moderna jab, peer-reviewed phase 3 clinical trial data, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine just ahead of the New Year, showed that the vaccine reduced asymptomatic infections by roughly two-thirds.
But the data set was small, leading the researchers to conclude that “the data were not sufficient to assess asymptomatic infection,” though “preliminary exploratory analysis suggest that some degree of prevention may be afforded after the first dose,” they wrote.
In the meantime, when thinking about spending time with those who live outside of your household, “it’s all about managing risk,” even if you’ve received the vaccine, said Whyte.
“The week after the second dose, your risk of getting [a] symptomatic infection is very low. So if you wear a mask — to protect the unvaccinated people you are visiting — and they wear a mask, and still try to [socially] distance, and keep the visit brief, I think it’s something you can pursue,” he said.
But, “we can’t completely eliminate risk,” warned Whyte.
“There is value [in] social interaction, so slowly expanding your bubble after vaccination is a reasonable strategy — ideally with people who are also vaccinated. That’s why we need to vaccinate as many people as possible quickly,” he continued. “Even if you are fully vaccinated, and someone else is not — wear the mask, physically distance — you can likely do some brief visits, recognizing the risk for someone unvaccinated still exists.”