Even as thousands get vaccinated against covid-19, doctors and scientists say it will be months before Arkansans will be able to stop wearing masks, socially distancing and taking other preventive measures.
One reason, according to a leading state researcher, is that scientists are still studying whether those who receive the vaccine can transmit the coronavirus to others.
Little data exists on how long immunity lasts. Early evidence suggests vaccines could build immunity to the coronavirus “for many, many months if not a year, or years,” said Dr. Robert Hopkins, chairman of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee and professor of internal medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He said it will take more time to be sure.
Even with the unknowns, public health experts say at least three-quarters of Americans will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity before life can return to normal.
Here are some details you need to know about what happens when you get your vaccine, according to health experts.
Peak protection comes about two weeks after receiving the second dose, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is unlikely people who have been vaccinated will develop a severe case of covid-19, or possibly even a symptomatic case. What’s unknown is whether they can be asymptomatic carriers and give the virus to others, according to the CDC.
It is possible that an immunized person could still catch the virus and spread it to other people without getting sick themselves, said Dr. Amanda Novack, Baptist Health’s medical director for infection prevention.
One critical difference is that a vaccinated individual who contracts the virus would spread less infectious material, said Dr. Charles “Corey” Scott, a Little Rock-based emergency medicine physician and the 2019-20 president of the Arkansas Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Although development was quick, the vaccines have been well-studied and tested.
Historically, vaccine development has taken years. The covid-19 vaccines were created over months.
Health experts credit advancements in technology, in particular genetic sequencing, and that coronaviruses are not new. Scientists have been studying these viruses for years after similar, but smaller, epidemics broke out in China in 2002 and the Middle East in 2012.
Scientists tried to make vaccines for many of these illnesses. But the diseases died out before vaccines could be created, Scott said.
With covid-19, “it is much easier to do trials and tests because it is still out there and spreading so quickly,” Scott said.
The shots won’t alter your DNA.
The vaccines are made of mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, “which is a bit of coding that our cells will use to make a spike protein that looks just like part of the virus that causes covid,” according to Baptist Health’s Novack.
Because mRNA is fragile, it does not survive long in the body and has no effect on DNA, Scott said.
The mRNA in the vaccine provides cells with a set of instructions on how to make spike proteins that look like part of the coronavirus, which then appear on the surface of the cells.
The immune system then recognizes the spike proteins and starts a defense against the foreign proteins, creating antibodies against covid-19.
That’s why it is crucial to get a vaccine, experts say.
“Normal life” won’t return as soon as you’re vaccinated.
A New York Times analysis estimated as of Jan. 30 that 7.3% of Arkansans have gotten at least one vaccination so far, short of the 75% experts say is needed for herd immunity.
Public fatigue from wearing face coverings, socially distancing, staying home, avoiding parties and not taking vacations is real.
While the vaccines offer light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, experts say that until a large percentage of the population gets the shots, it is still too soon to stop taking precautions.