Published on healthline
Written by Ashley Welch on February 7, 2021 — Fact checked by Jennifer ChesakShare on PinterestThere’s no zero-risk activity while the virus is still circulating. But older adults who have been vaccinated should feel more confident in taking part in activities with people who are considered low-risk. SolStock / Getty Images
- Older adults are being prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Many families may soon find themselves in a position where older adults are vaccinated, but their children and grandchildren aren’t.
- Until more of the population is vaccinated and community transmission of the virus has gone down, physical distancing and mask wearing still need to be practiced, experts say.
For older adults who have been isolated from family and friends for the better part of a year to stay safe from the coronavirus, the emergency authorization of two COVID-19 vaccines offers some light at the end of the tunnel.
While the vaccine certainly offers more protection, experts caution it’ll still take some time before life returns to normal.
That includes what visits with loved ones will look like.
“It’s exciting for people who have been vaccinated to think about resuming those things again, but we’re still not out of the woods yet,” said Dr. Ronan Factora, of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “It’s a process.”
As the United States continues its vaccine rollout, people over the age of 75, along with frontline essential workers, are being prioritized to receive the shot after healthcare personnel and nursing home residents.
In the next phase, people 65 to 74 and adults with underlying health conditions will be offered the vaccine.
This will put many families in a situation where older adults are vaccinated, but their children and grandchildren aren’t.
Healthline spoke with medical experts to see how families should go about visiting loved ones safely in these situations.
Dr. Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, said that while the vaccine is moving the country in the right direction, “we are not in a zero risk situation and a few things need to happen before we get down to even a minimal risk situation.”
Those things include getting most of the population vaccinated and getting community transmission of COVID-19 under control.
“We are still at levels well above what we saw during the summer surge in most places,” said Kelley, who’s also a principal investigator for the Moderna and Novavax phase 3 vaccine clinical trials at the Ponce de Leon clinical research site.
Both she and Factora said it’ll be well into 2021 before we get to this point.
Until then, the same protective measures that have been in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing, mask wearing, and good hand hygiene, should continue to be practiced when visiting loved ones.
“Today in February, I would do the same things I was doing in December,” Kelley said. “Visit outdoors wherever possible. If you’re indoors, be masked. We still need to keep any gatherings very small and limited as much as possible.”
One reason for this is that whichever vaccine an individual gets, it won’t be 100 percent effective. “Even with 94 or 95 percent efficacy with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, you still have that risk,” Factora said.
At the rate at which the virus is spreading across the country, even that 5 percent chance can still be risky.
“Even though the vaccine protects you, there’s still that risk that you’ll contract it and for older adults, you’re still going to be at higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death compared to the rest of the population,” Factora said.
It’s also not known yet how well the vaccine is going to protect against emergent variants of the virus that are more contagious.
“That’s something scientists are studying, but it’s going to take some time [to figure out],” Factora said.