by Kyla Dowling, Staff Writer
The COVID-19 vaccines have been touted as a Hail Mary after a long year of distancing, protocols, and anxiety — the end seems near. Despite the slow negotiations that led to a shortage of vaccines, the government intends for all Canadians to be vaccinated by September of this year. The vaccines seem like the light at the end of the tunnel; however, the pandemic won’t go away when people get vaccinated. Given that vaccinated people can still carry the virus and that transmissible variants are growing in number, the vaccines don’t mean we should abandon all other safety protocols. Because of this, if we have a full return to in-person learning in the fall, it will not necessarily be a safe scenario.
Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are said to be 95% effective, with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson at 76% and 66% efficacy respectively. Though these numbers are strong, nothing is guaranteed. A number of people who have received the vaccine still got COVID-19. While the vaccines highly limit the chance of getting a severe case of the illness or having to be hospitalized, it is not an immunity badge, and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Not only do the vaccines not guarantee a COVID-19-free life, but they also don’t prevent the virus from being transmitted to others. There is evidence that the vaccines hamper transmission, but it can still happen — whether fully or partially vaccinated. This is why the CDC recommends that only people who have been fully vaccinated (and have waited two weeks after the final dose) gather together without masks or distancing.
However, in BC, these types of gatherings won’t happen any time soon. As per BC’s vaccination plan, the majority of university students (who fall in the 18–24 age range) are not scheduled to get their first dose until June. Additionally, due to the number of vaccine shortages, a panel of vaccine experts recommended that doses for the Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca vaccines be administered four months apart to streamline partial vaccinations. They also advise that partially vaccinated people to still wear masks and social distance around those outside their household. As such, university students may not receive their second dose of the vaccine until October — meaning a full return to campus life without any precautions will not be possible.
Students from other provinces are also an issue. In Ontario, university students will not be eligible for their first dose of the vaccine until July. Given that all adults aged 59 or younger will become eligible at the same time, it is not likely that all students will be able to get the vaccine within the month of July.
Even when the majority of the population is fully vaccinated, this will not be the end of the pandemic. There are people who are unable to get vaccinated due to medical conditions, and they will only be able to safely stop wearing a mask when we reach herd immunity — or if we reach herd immunity.
As if all of this isn’t enough, there are still multiple variants of the virus, the ones prevalent in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and South Africa being at the forefront of the news cycle. The vaccines notably do not provide as much protection against the variants than they do the original virus. This is a concern, especially because B.1.1.7 (the UK variant) is both more transmissible and more lethal than the original. Having partially or fully vaccinated people move around as if they are invincible is bad enough without the variant. But with it? It spells disaster.
Being vaccinated doesn’t mean that concerts and clubs will come back full force. It doesn’t mean that when we return to campus in the fall, we can hug our friends and ditch our masks. It doesn’t mean that you’re safe, or that anyone else is. It is vital to continue wearing masks, physically distancing, and listening to governmental guidelines. When you get your first dose of the vaccine, your life may not be at risk anymore — but other peoples’ lives still are.