Another day, another lesson in our really, really complicated immune system. We know now that vaccines are super-effective against Covid-19, which is phenomenal news, but scientists still aren’t sure how well they fare against the coronavirus itself. How is that possible, you say? In a new article for Elemental, I asked six scientists and physicians how the vaccines could protect against disease but not necessarily prevent infection or transmission of the virus.
Experts say that the virus could still enter cells in a vaccinated person’s nose and mouth and begin to replicate there. The immune response generated by the vaccine would quickly defeat the virus, so the infection wouldn’t last long, and the virus likely wouldn’t be able to get down into the lungs, where it can wreak havoc. But the asymptomatically infected person could still unwittingly transmit the virus to other people, especially those who are not yet protected.
The good news is that all the experts I spoke with said they expect the vaccines will partially prevent the spread of the virus, hopefully getting us out of the pandemic faster. But until they know for sure (research is pending), and until a large enough swath of the population has been vaccinated to reach herd immunity, even vaccinated people should still wear masks in public.