Health

Your questions, answered: I’m now vaccinated. Why should I worry about maybe getting covid-19?

— James in Massachusetts

We’ve been challenged to calculate all these new risks since the beginning of the pandemic — going to the store, visiting elderly parents, taking the kids to the playground — and now we have to recalibrate that risk analysis for a post-vaccine life.

Any of the vaccines will significantly reduce your chances of contracting covid-19, and if you happen to get it, then it is more likely to be akin to a cold rather than a severe respiratory illness that could put you in the hospital.

But rarely in life — and in medicine, in particular — are the risks zero. There’s still a chance of getting sick, which you might personally be willing to take. Weighing the pros and cons, it might feel like you’re ready to get back to normal once you’re fully vaccinated.

Here’s the problem, however.

We still have a lot of people in the United States (and the world) who have not yet received the vaccine. They fall into three categories:

●The people who are refusing to get one;

●The people still waiting in line or who are scheduled in the future; and

●The immunocompromised people whose doctors have advised them not to get the shot, or for whom the shot is not working. Focus on those last two categories.

As long as there’s still a significant number of unvaccinated among us, our “vaccinated” choices will affect them. You might decide that you’ll take the small risk of cold-like symptoms (or a symptomless infection), but if you do get it you can spread it to others, including, for example, strangers at the grocery store who haven’t had the vaccine because they are immunocompromised. Double whammy: They can’t get the shot yet and they are at higher risk of a life-threatening bout of covid-19.

That is just one of the things public health experts are thinking about right now, and why they haven’t said “once you get the vaccine, you’re free.” Because with viruses, it’s never just about us. We need all the healthy folks to get shots, so the people who can’t will still be protected by the “herd” of immune people around them. That’s when we can ease up on the concern.

Until then, we should take the standard precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.

angela.fritz@washpost.com


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