COVID-19 vaccines and variants mean masks and social restrictions likely to stay until fall


We are 10 months into the pandemic: 10 months of masks, hand washing, and some form of social lockdown.

For some, the prospect of a vaccine is offering hope – a light at the end of the tunnel – but experts are warning the public to not expect things to change anytime soon.

“Just because we have a vaccine doesn’t necessarily mean you can do without those essential health measures,” said Dr. Kiffer Card

Even as vaccines for the general public get set to roll out, there is still a lot we don’t know.

“The vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, are very effective at preventing symptoms, especially severe symptoms,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday.

“What we don’t yet know, is if it prevents you from getting infected at all.”

This means people still may be able to carry the COVID-19 virus and pass it on to someone else.

“Just because you can’t get the virus, doesn’t mean your body can’t become a pathway to your friends and family who could get exposed to the virus,” explained Dr. Card.

What officials do know is that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are up to 50-89 per cent effective 35 days after the first dose.

Two weeks after the second dose, that efficacy hits 95 per cent.

Health officials are still unsure, however, how long protection from the vaccine lasts.

“From the studies that have been done it’s at least three to four months,” said Dr. Henry.

Tests by Pfizer and Moderna are being done in real-time, as their product rolls out across the world, so health officials say there are a lot of unanswered questions right now.

Then the big question, when will things go back to normal?

Epidemiologists at the federal and provincial level say we likely won’t see a relaxing of restrictions until 70 to 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated.

“It’s very clear from the evidence of what we know right now, it won’t be a long time, a matter of months. Hopefully, the fall is a really good marker when can really start to return back to normal,” said Dr. Card.

That, however, relies on high vaccination rates by the public – something some health professionals are wary about.

“If you need 80 per cent of people to get vaccinated or more, that means everybody counts,” said Dr. Card.

The x-factor in all of this appears to be the variants. They’re highly transmissible and constantly mutating.

“We’re in a race to get rid of this virus before it outsmarts us,” said Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor in the faculty of medicine at UBC.

To some degree it already has. The virus has already mutated dozens of times.

The most concerning are the highly contagious variants, like ones originally reported in the U.K., Brazil, and South Africa, which are having a devastating effect.

Just on Thursday, British Columbia announced its first case of the variant found in South Africa.

The most concerning, is health officials don’t know how it was contracted, meaning it was likely caught through some form of community transmission.

“It’s absolutely important that these next few weeks are taken as seriously as possible,” said Dr. Murthy.

The good news is that doctors say the current vaccines work against the new variants.

The challenge for the next few weeks will be ensuring people continue to follow the health restrictions, buying time to get as many vaccines in their arms as possible.

“I think the danger that we have is that people take it into their own hands and decide for themselves what they’re going to do, what they think is safe, without thinking about how their behaviour affects other people,” said Dr. Card.

“We’ve really made these big sacrifices and we don’t want them to be for nothing. Stopping and slowing epidemic is saving people’s lives.”





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