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Vaccine recipients still must take care

Levine: Inoculation no guarantee against infection

People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can still be infectious — which is one of the reasons they’ll need to keep following mitigation practices for now, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said at a virtual news conference Monday.

Mitigations like wearing masks, distancing, avoidance of gatherings and washing hands are more important than ever, especially during the holidays, when people should limit in-person celebrations to members of their own households, according to Levine.

Those who’ve been vaccinated — 17,000 front line health care workers so far in Pennsylvania — may be among the approximately 5% whom studies by vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna indicate may get sick anyway, or they may be among those who might carry the virus without symptoms, according to Levine.

“It’s still possible to get COVID even if you’re vaccinated,” Levine said. “You might be asymptomatic and still spread it.”

There’s also a period after injections before immunity is fully established, according to Levine.

Both vaccines require two doses — Pfizer’s three weeks apart, Moderna’s four weeks apart.

Full immunity occurs several weeks after the second doses, Levine said.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia supports the secretary’s cautions, while indicating the science around the issue isn’t settled.

“While the vaccines appear to be highly effective at preventing disease, it might not prevent asymptomatic infection, meaning vaccine recipients might still be able to get infected, but not have symptoms and, therefore, unwittingly spread the virus,” the hospital stated on its website. “The companies will be doing additional studies to better understand whether this is the case.”

The idea that people who have been vaccinated will believe that they’re absolutely protected is “what keeps me up at night,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the hospital in a video posted on the hospital’s website.

The small percentage of vaccinated people who get sick anyway, plus those who have a mild case, can still shed the virus and be contagious, Offit said.

Studies conducted by Pfizer and Moderna to gain approval for their vaccines didn’t test for contagiousness, according to a Dec. 8 article in Science News.

“Those trials, instead, focused on whether people were shielded from developing disease symptoms,” the article states. “That means that it’s not clear whether vaccinated people could still develop asymptomatic infections — and thus still be able to spread the virus to others.”

COVID-19 isn’t likely to be under control in the U.S. until 70% or 80% of people — 250 million nationwide — are immune, according to the hospital’s website.

Because only about 12 million may have been infected as of November, there’s a long way to go before that condition of societal immunity is reached, according to the hospital.

“For these reasons, there will still be some period of time during which other measures, such as masks, social distancing and other public health measures, will be required,” the website states.

Recent statistics show that the statewide outbreak that led to the Wolf administration’s adding mitigation orders before Thanksgiving has reached a “plateau” — and that maybe it’s even waning a bit, Levine said, when asked whether the state is likely to impose further mitigations after Christmas.

The pre-Thanksgiving order expires Jan. 4.

“We’ll see” whether further action is needed then, she said.

“If everybody stands united and stays home during the holidays, (it will be) hopeful for January,” she said. “If people travel and gather outside their households, (we’ll be) more challenged.”

It’s hard to determine whether the colder weather that drove people indoors or Thanksgiving travel and gatherings have been responsible for the most recent figures, Levine said.

“Probably a little of both,” she said.

“Next year at this time, things will look so much better,” she said.

So far, there has been no evidence of problems related to coronavirus mutations in Pennsylvania or the U.S., Levine said, when asked about reports that a mutation found in the United Kingdom seems to have made the virus more transmissible.

“We are watching the news” on that, Levine said. The issue needs to be studied by virologists, she added. “(But) there’s nothing people in Pennsylvania have to worry about at this time,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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