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Feb. 18—The percentage of Maine's population that has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine is growing steadily, approaching the 15 percent mark as of Thursday, February 18. While that's welcome news, Maine and the nation are still a long way away from achieving the "herd immunity" needed to truly knock down the disease.
But as more people become fully vaccinated, many are asking what it means for their daily lives. Here are answers to a few of those questions. Have others? Email them to .
It's been more than two weeks since I received my second vaccine shot. Is it finally safe for me to hug my grandkids again?
Yes . . . or probably . . . with precautions.
As with seemingly everything around COVID-19, the issue of what you can or can't do after vaccination is complicated because research into this new viral disease is still evolving. But as more Mainers age 70 and older get vaccinated (47 percent of that age segment having received at least one shot as of February 18), it's natural for them to want to resume things that have been put on hold for nearly a year — like hugging family.
Expert opinions vary, but many seem to suggest that fully vaccinated grandparents should be OK swooping in for a quick but loving hug with the grandkids — as long as everybody wears a mask and refrains from kissing (sorry, grandmas). And doing it outdoors is even safer.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines reduce the likelihood of getting COVID-19 by 94 to 95 percent.
"That does mean after you've been vaccinated, if you're an older Mainer with your grandkids, you should feel free to hug your grandkids again and engage with your family in ways that we know so many people have had to put on hold for a year," Shah said during a late-January forum hosted by the Lewiston Public Library and the Lewiston Sun Journal.
But Shah added: "They should also be masked, though. Still wear a mask."
It's also important to note that it takes at least two weeks after the second dose for the vaccines to be fully effective, so it's best to continue behaving like you're not inoculated until then. And while children are far less likely to develop severe cases of COVID-19 — and there are no vaccines currently approved for use in children in the U.S. — they can still contract it and spread it to others at home, at school or elsewhere.
Why do I still need to wear a mask in public or with non-vaccinated family if I'm fully inoculated?
While 94 to 95 percent effectiveness is an astounding feat for vaccines developed in less than a year, those figures mean that 5 to 6 percent of individuals who were part of the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials still contracted the virus. Research has shown, however, that the vaccine keeps people from falling seriously ill — or sometimes developing any symptoms at all — even if it doesn't entirely shield them from COVID-19.
Scientists are still researching the extent to which vaccinated individuals can be carriers of the coronavirus and, therefore, spread it to others. So the current mask-wearing requirement — and the rationale behind it — doesn't change for vaccinated individuals: Face masks protect others around you as well as yourself.
"Until we have more information about how this vaccine impacts what we call asymptomatic transmission, we still have to wear the mask because, although we may be protected from severe infection, or even getting symptomatic COVID-19 infection, we don't know if people may pick up the virus and transmit it to somebody else," Dr. Abinash Virk, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic, said in a post on the issue.
"These studies — both the Pfizer and the Moderna — were really designed to see if the vaccine can prevent the symptomatic infection," Virk said. "They weren't designed to study if we can prevent transmission from one person to the other."
Additionally, new variants of the coronavirus (such as those first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil) are now spreading in the U.S. And it's still an unknown how effective the current vaccines will be against those mutated versions of the virus.
So the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends even fully vaccinated individuals still wear masks (properly over mouth and nose), wash hands often, maintain at least a six-foot buffer with others, and avoid crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.
"It's important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions," the U.S. CDC states.
Can I get together for dinner with another couple or a few friends — inside a private home and without masks — if we've all been fully vaccinated?
Again, opinions vary on this topic.
Some medical experts say small gatherings of vaccinated people are likely safe as long as everyone is at least two weeks beyond their final shot. But others caution that it is too early to let your guard down, particularly as new and more transmissible variants are popping up across the U.S., including here in Maine.
It bears repeating that neither the Moderna nor the Pfizer vaccines are 100 percent effective at keeping you from developing the strains of COVID-19 that were used during clinical trials, much less new variants. That means someone could hypothetically — potentially — contract the virus from another dinner partier who is unknowingly a carrier and is feeling fine because the vaccine worked as intended in their immune system.
There is no official guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what activities are safe for people who are fully vaccinated. The current guidance still recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks and keep a safe distance from each other.
"But I believe that's going to change," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said earlier this month during a forum hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to CNN. "We're talking about this at the level of the CDC."