April 14, 2021

Getting the Vaccine is like Buckling our Seat Belt: we still have to Drive Safely.

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. This article is a dose of common sense and a spoonful of science.

My mission is to make people aware of the protection they are getting when becoming card-carrying vaccinated citizens.

The first benefit I experienced was peace of mind. I slept like a baby after I received my second vaccination. There is a sense of safety that comes with it.

But the vaccine card entitles us to immunity, not invincibility.

I have a friend who I believe has just gotten COVID-19. She has been the living, breathing definition of quarantine—next-level compliance. But, she’s now contracted the virus and she is symptomatic. I think I have identified the chink in her armor. Over the last few months, she has visited with a few friends. This was a bold step out of her comfort zone, but she wanted to integrate some social activity back into her world. The time spent together was always outside and absolutely socially distanced. This presented minimal risk. Recently, however, she visited with some family at their home—“but they’ve all had their vaccines,” she told me.

This is where the rubber meets the road. I received the Pfizer vaccine. If I am exposed to Covid, there is a 95 percent chance that my body’s immunity will protect me from developing symptoms and becoming sick.

What concerns me is that you might believe that you are completely safe to be around me.

What I think needs to be italicized is that while I may be wearing a suit of armor, you are not. I can still be exposed to, carry, and pass along the virus. If you have not had the vaccine, you can become sick from whatever exposure I have had.

Employees gather around the water cooler in the office, or if still working from home, join a Zoom call to discuss who got Pfizer and who got Moderna. Many understand that one has a three-week gap between injections and the other, four. We all speak a new language; we know just enough to participate in conversations.

Or do we? Have we been talking about this?

It is still important to wear a mask if you’ve been vaccinated. People who have been vaccinated can still pass Covid on, while not getting sick themselves. I see vaccinated people all around me returning to normal—doing all of the things they missed during quarantine. Some have jumped right back into their pre-Covid lifestyle. That may include lunches and dinners, in groups, perhaps even in restaurants. And every unvaccinated person in their path has a risk of exposure.

I am 58 years old, and many of my peers have been lucky enough to be vaccinated. Who says there aren’t perks to growing old in Florida? Some people who have been vaccinated feel they are entitled to make choices that look different than those they might have made during quarantine. The vaccine changes the lens through which many see their world. Visits with grandchildren are now bringing tears of joy. Trips to see loved ones are on the books. People are getting back on planes, trains, and into their automobiles. I am considering burning my sweatpants and trying to remember how to put on makeup.

The post-vaccine day looks brighter and holds hope for a future that may feel like a new normal, whatever that may be. So, some who have been vaccinated are engaging in activities that still bring great risk, but they are willing because they believe they have the secret weapon.

My current concern is for those who choose to be in the presence of vaccinated people and do not wear the same suit of armor.

The choice carries risk. My objective is to make that risk clear to anyone who doesn’t understand it to be real. The level of concern woke me up this morning before the sun was up, and I ran right to the keyboard. I want people who have been vaccinated to understand that they are still a potential risk to those who have not.

If you get into your car, start the engine, and put it into drive, your only protection from injury in the event of an accident is the metal body of the car. Then, the moment you buckle your seat belt, there’s a whole new level of safety. This does not, however, protect you from having a collision. Getting into an accident is no less a possibility. You just stand a far better chance of avoiding injury. Please be aware that just because your seat belt is fastened, that doesn’t mean that you should drive down the wrong side of the road.

The various vaccines can provide up to 95 percent protection. The rest is up to you. It is still crucial that we wear masks to protect others. Think about the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a small sacrifice for your fellow man and woman. It is important that those who are not vaccinated behave the same way they have been in order to remain safe—even while around those who have been vaccinated.

It is very much like the implementation of universal precautions in a hospital:

When the AIDS crisis was emerging, doctors were exposed to high-risk patients 24/7. Their job was to offer care to patients who could potentially have HIV. In emergent situations, doctors would start treatment without knowing a patient’s medical history. Drawing blood or starting an IV could literally put their lives at risk if they got stuck. My husband was a resident in Miami during that time and it was essential to exercise extreme caution while offering excellent care. This was when the protocol of universal precautions was established. Doctors would treat every patient as if they were, in fact, HIV positive—double gloves, shields, and whatever protective gear was appropriate to the situation. This practice didn’t make patients feel scrutinized, and at the same time, it offered universal protection to their caregivers.

I propose that those who have not been vaccinated embrace the concept of universal precautions in order to protect themselves. I encourage those who have been vaccinated to be perfectly clear that while they are protected up to 95 percent, they still have some risk of both getting sick and transmitting to others. It is important that they understand they could still be putting unvaccinated loved ones at risk.

As hard as we try to wish it away, we are still in the thick of this pandemic. The vaccination is a seat belt, not a guarantee. We must not be immune to the facts. Buckle up and stay safe!

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