COVID-19 Vaccine Brings Optimism, But Post-Vaccination Fears About What's Safe Persist

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The coronavirus pandemic has stolen a precious year from Abby Rosenblum and her mother.

After the adult family home in Seattle's Blue Ridge neighborhood where her 87-year-old mother, Anne Adams, lives barred visitors last spring because of COVID-19, Rosenblum relied on the bed of a pickup truck to get to a high enough point from where she could her mother through a window.

Rosenblum, like so many others, is pinning her hopes of seeing her mother again — to hug her mother again — on a COVID-19 vaccine.

"For the past year, I've climbed up on this old pickup truck that's parked under her window one and a half stories up," Rosenblum said.

The coronavirus pandemic has kept loved ones apart far longer than many expected, and in doing so, changed the ways people interact with not only casual relationships but also our most intimate connections.

The collective pent-up frustration and pain of this lost year is heightened now that vaccines are not only inoculating people against the virus but also delivering a boost of optimism. People are now able to envision hugging their families, playing with grandchildren and doing things that seemed so commonplace before the coronavirus tore across the globe.

That optimism is tempered by guidance from public health professionals and scientists about what people can expect post-inoculation.

"The vaccine is not a, you know, VIP path to stop wearing masks or, you know, social distancing in the community," said Dr. Seth Cohen, medical director for infection prevention at the University of Washington Medical Center. "I do think it's a huge step forward as part of our exit strategy, but the challenge is that our community rates are just too high to let down our guard right now."

A major limiting factor for vaccinated people wanting to jump back into the world is if they can still be infected and asymptomatic, giving them the ability to transmit the virus.

"Just because you're vaccinated doesn't mean that you're safe for your loved ones," said Dr. Angela Shen, a visiting research scientist at the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "The vaccine protects you, but we're not sure whether or not it prevents infection. And so you should wait until your loved ones are vaccinated before seeing them."

Until the pace of vaccinations increases, public health officials are urging people, vaccinated and not vaccinated, to continue to wear masks, social distance from others, practice good hand hygiene and avoid gathering with people outside your pandemic bubble.

Washington is still not meeting the state Department of Health's goal of vaccinating 45,000 people a day. The seven-day average was at 26,479 doses given per day as of Feb. 8.

The state is in the Phase 1B category for vaccinations, which is for people 65 and older and those 50 and older living in multigenerational households. This group accounts for about 1.7 million people, equating to 3.4 million doses that have to be done before moving to the next phases.

There is hope that the pace of vaccinations will increase. On Wednesday, DOH officials said they can now plan vaccinations more than one week in advance because the federal government is forecasting allocations of vaccine three weeks in advance.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, was asked during a CNN town hall late last month if a person has had one dose of the two-dose Moderna vaccine could they travel to visit their grandchildren.

The first of two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines does provide some protection but that the maximum efficacy only happens 10 to 14 days after receiving the second dose, Fauci said.

"We don't want people to think because they got vaccinated that other public health recommendations just don't apply," Fauci said.

Rosenblum is inching closer to being with her mother without a window between them. Her mother received her first dose of vaccine Feb. 1 and is scheduled for her second dose Feb. 22.

Despite her mother being vaccinated, Rosenblum knows the wait might drag on because she is a healthy 63-year-old who might not be vaccinated for some time. But, once the adult family home allows visitors, she will double mask, stay six feet from her mother and hope others do the same while visiting loved ones.

"My hope is that I'll be able to visit her in her room after she's got her second vaccination," she said. "My fear is that that's not a good idea because I'm not vaccinated."

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