CLEVELAND — One in five Ohioans has either started or completed the coronavirus vaccination process. With even more mass vaccination sites popping up around the state, infectious disease experts want to remind those getting vaccinated that the vaccine shouldn't be viewed as a blank check.
As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 22% of Ohioans have started or completed the COVID-19 vaccine, an increase of more than 70,000 people from the previous day. More than 2.5 million Ohioans have started the vaccine. Nearly 70% of those age 80 and older have been vaccinated, according to Ohio's coronavirus vaccine dashboard.
With such a large portion of the state's population either vaccinated or scheduled to be vaccinated, Dr. Kristin Englund said it's important not to let your guard down.
"We're seeing COVID numbers at least stabilize if not rise in a number of places and unless we're careful we're going to get ourselves back into positions to where we were last year," Englund said. "We are so happy that the vaccines are becoming more and more available and they are proving to be as effective as they are. But this is not a 'get out of COVID free' moment for us."
According to the CDC, someone isn't considered 'fully vaccinated' until two weeks after their final dose of the vaccine. For those taking the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, full vaccination won't occur until two weeks after the second dose. For those taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, full vaccination won't occur until two weeks after the first and only dose. Only when people are considered fully vaccinated are they also considered fully protected, Englund said. That two-week period is critical as the body's immune system learns how to properly fight off the virus.
"This virus is able to change itself, mutate, fairly rapidly as we're seeing and we keep hearing about more and more mutations being identified throughout the world. The ability for our vaccines to protect against those mutations is still being studied at this point in time," Englund said. "While the vaccine worked against the original strain of the virus, will it continue to work [against the variants] is something we don't know yet. Even though you get vaccinated and you can feel better about the things that you're doing, it's not going to keep you safe in all situations."
Barb Dragony of Avon became fully vaccinated earlier this week, marking two weeks since her second dose of the vaccine. While she said that she doesn't feel as tense when going to the grocery store, she is still adamant about continuing to wear her mask and practicing social distancing, which is what Englund recommends that all fully vaccinated people need to do.
"The relief is great. It's really good," Dragony said. "The learning curve, I think that's the hardest part. You don't want to go out there and say, 'oh I'm vaccinated, heck with the rest of you that aren't.' You want to be cognizant of that. We still don't know yet. I think it's going to be a while but there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
Englund said if you and a friend or you and a small group of family members are all fully vaccinated, you don't have to wear masks while indoors. However, she stressed that all people present need to be fully vaccinated. Grandparents that have reached full vaccination will be able to spoil their grandchildren again but under certain guidelines. As long as the grandparent is fully vaccinated and the interactions are kept to a small ground within the same household, a mask isn't required.
"This is a great opportunity for grandparents to be able to see their grandchildren because we're not vaccinating children yet. This is a great opportunity. But again, it's not a time we're going to have extended families getting together from multiple households," Englund said. "It really needs to be small groups."
Additionally, Englund recommends people pump the brakes on travel for a little while longer as the CDC prepares new guidance for folks wanting to plan trips that were postponed last year. Englund also stresses that people still need to wear a mask and face shield when in healthcare settings, especially if it isn't known whether everyone there have been vaccinated yet.
Most important of all, Englund said, is to remember that the vaccine doesn't make people invincible, especially as the virus continues to mutate.
"The variants are going to limit us because we still have to catch up and do tests on each one of the variants to see how effective the current vaccines are against it," Englund said. "I look at pictures from Florida right now of people crowding onto the beaches and young people who I know have not been vaccinated and who are not wearing masks. I am so concerned about what that is going to mean for their communities."
Although Dragony didn't celebrate her fully vaccinated status with a trip to a restaurant, she said the day brought a great sense of relief. As more and more of her friends and neighbors also get vaccinated, she urges everyone to be just as careful now as they were at the start of the pandemic.
"You still have to wear a mask. You still have to be smart. But there is hope. By the end of the month when it opens up to 16 and above, that's a good thing," Dragony said.