At first glance, it’s our worst nightmare. People get vaccinated for the coronavirus then turn up positive for the COVID-19 infection just days later. It’s as if the shot ISN’T working!
Well, my friend, if you’ve seen those alarmist headlines take a deep breath. Because I’ve got a fear-busting fact-check for you today.
It’s true that there’s still a lot we don’t know about the two vaccines that have been approved so far. And there are still plenty of valid questions to be asking. Especially for those folks who have decided they WILL be getting the shot as soon as it’s offered.
(Wondering about the vaccine’s side effects? I wrote about them recently here.)
But those sensationalist stories about the vaccines failing aren’t what they appear to be. They’re not proof the shots don’t work. They’re proof that the media doesn’t understand the science.
And as a result, they’re failing to help other folks understand how and when the coronavirus vaccine protection actually kicks in. So let’s go ahead and fix that right now.
The 3 phases of the coronavirus vaccine
Let’s start with two facts. Getting the coronavirus vaccine doesn’t mean life immediately returns to normal. And the protection you get against the virus isn’t immediate either
Basically, three are three phases each of us who gets the vaccine will go through.
You’re getting the coronavirus vaccine. The current ones require two doses, several weeks apart. What’s important to understand is you’re NOT protected right after the first one.
As I’ve explained before, the new mRNA vaccines work by training your body to recognize and fight off the coronavirus. So it takes time.
During this “training period,” before the protection starts to kick in, you CAN still catch the virus. Plus, if you’ve already been exposed and infected before you get the vaccine, the shot will not cure you.
In any case, if you get vaccinated, it’s best to assume you have no protection at all after the first shot. You should continue with all the same precautions you’ve already been practicing to keep yourself safe.
You get the second shot. It delivers about ten times the protection of one shot alone. But once again, that shield against the virus isn’t immediate.
In fact, it takes an additional two to four weeks after the second dose before you can expect to have the full protection the vaccine provides.
In other words, even after that second shot, the safest approach is to STILL assume you’re NOT protected for about a month.
When a month has passed since your second shot, you should have the full protection the vaccine provides. But there’s a catch. After that period, you’ll still need to wear a mask and be careful.
And that’s because while 95 percent protection is fantastic, it’s not 100 percent. And if you have any other risk factors including being a senior or having a chronic disease such as diabetes your risk may still be higher than other folks. So while the virus is still so active, it’s not a good idea to risk catching it.
Plus, it’s still not clear if the vaccine prevents transmission. In other words, there’s a chance you may be able to carry and spread the virus even if you don’t get sick from it. Scientists are studying this, but since everything has moved so quickly, they don’t have an answer yet.
And there’s another practical reason to continue to wear your mask for now. There’s no way to make it clear to others that you’ve been vaccinated. So when you go out in public, the mask will make everyone around you just a little more comfortable.
And keep in mind we still don’t know how long the protection against coronavirus lasts. It could be a lifetime. It could be something people will need regular boosters for. Or the virus could mutate enough that we may need routine new shots to fight the latest version, similar to how flu shots are given every year.
As I said, there’s just a lot we still don’t know yet about the vaccines. But I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the latest as we learn it. In the meantime, stay safe out there.