‘Multilayered approach’ to COVID-19 still needed as vaccine rollout continues
It is still important for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks and practice social distancing, experts said.
“It remains important to practice well-established, evidence-based prevention measures,” Joshua Barocas, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and infectious diseases physician at Boston Medical Center, said during an Infectious Diseases Society of America press briefing.
According to the CDC, more than 27 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 6.4 people have received the full two doses. The vaccine rollout, plus emerging real-world clinical trial data on vaccine effectiveness, has created “an encouraging period of time,” Barocas said, although he stressed that inequities in vaccine distribution will need to be worked out.
“Vaccines do offer true risk reduction, and that is the good news, but it is important to remember that only a very small portion of the population has actually been vaccinated,” Barocas said. “People with the greatest need for protection have not been at the front of the line, and we know that there are existing and growing inequities in who has been vaccinated. Black and Latinx people, who are at the highest risk of infection currently, have been and are still the least likely to be vaccinated.”
Barocas likened mask wearing to armor in a jousting match, noting that although it may not guarantee protection, it is still safer than to not wear it. He said that a “multilayered approach,” including mask wearing, social distancing and other proven mitigation efforts, will be needed even as vaccination continues.
Ricardo Franco, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an associate scientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for AIDS Research, said during the briefing that emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants demonstrate the need for mitigation efforts, even among those who are vaccinated.
“The emergence of these variants only brings greater urgency. Once production of vaccines and provisions of supplies reach ideal capacity, we will only have optimal vaccine distribution when we inject greater resources to local health departments and we find creative ways to leverage retail stores and pharmacies to administer these vaccines,” he said. “It is also very important to quickly report the number of vaccine shots given back to the CDC, so we know in real time which locales are in need of allocation of additional vaccine vials in a timely manner.”
The percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity is unclear, Franco said, and is a “moving target” driven by the population being studied, the vaccines being used and how a given population is prioritized for distribution.
He also noted that vaccine hesitancy is a “concerning element” of distribution that may further increase the amount of time that mask wearing and social distancing will be necessary.
“We need to remain committed to using all the tools we have,” Franco said.