By now we’ve all heard about the two vaccines that are making their way into the US healthcare system, albeit slowly. While promising, we can’t expect them to be a cure for the pandemic – at least not yet.
Vaccines: Who and When?
So far, the rollout is well below expected – 20 million doses were projected to have been administered by this point in time, but only 17 million have even been distributed to states. Worse yet, not even 5 million people have received a first dose, and it’s going to take some time before the general public receives them.
Considering the limited number of doses, vaccines are going to those in the highest risk categories first, including healthcare workers and long-term care residents. However, while the CDC provides guidance and recommendations, states have the final say in who gets priority and when. Since “essential workers” compose approximately 70% of the workforce, there will likely be large differences in how states choose to prioritize when workers are allowed to be vaccinated.
For those not in the healthcare sector or another essential service, the timing for vaccines to trickle down is also a subject of much conjecture. Johns Hopkins, for example, estimates that vaccines will be available to the general public 6 months to a year from the time the vaccines were approved.
Returning to the Office
Beyond these logistical complications, for those beginning to talk about bringing a work-from-home workforce back to the office, there are additional considerations – and limitations of the vaccines – that you should be thinking about.
- We don’t know yet if vaccines will halt the transmission of the virus, or if they only benefit those who have received the vaccine. We do know that some who have received the vaccine were still infected by COVID-19, but the severity of their symptoms were greatly diminished.
- How long the vaccines will provide immunity is also unknown. Some cases have been reported in which someone infected with COVID-19 was reinfected at a later date, though the second illness wasn’t as severe as the first.
In either case, even if you’re vaccinated, you’ll still want to wear a mask, social distance and practice good hygiene to protect those around you. Vaccines may be more akin to masks as a public health measure, in that they alone may not be enough to stop COVID-19. However, they should help us to move much more rapidly to a place in which herd immunity is reached, or where the virus can no longer find enough hosts to allow it to spread.
In the meantime, if you are bringing employees to work, strategies do exist to help combat COVID-19 infection, including testing, surveillance, workplace modifications, improved hygiene, and anticipating the impact of COVID-19 in order to make adaptations in care delivery.