Q: Can I visit my grandchildren after I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Michael Shea, MD, Intensivist and Chief Medical Director, Maui Health: We know that everyone is eager to get back to normal, and especially after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Many kupuna were the first to be vaccinated and now families are wondering if it’s safe to gather again or give grandma a hug. There are some things to consider before jumping back into normal family life again.
First, the COVID-19 vaccines are very safe and more than 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. But they’re not 100 percent effective, which means some people will still get sick, even after getting the vaccine. The good news is, if someone does become ill with COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, the effects should be less severe, as the vaccine does provide protection against critical symptoms of COVID.
We are, however, still learning about the vaccine, such as whether the vaccine can prevent someone from transmitting the virus. In other words, someone who has been vaccinated might be protected from getting sick themselves, but it’s possible they could still be contagious and pass it on to others even without symptoms. That’s why the CDC recommends people still wear a mask and practice social distancing even after getting vaccinated.
However, we know there are also difficulties with prolonged isolation from family and friends. Social isolation can contribute to loneliness and depression in seniors. Also, grandparents can provide critical childcare for working parents, and kids also benefit from spending time with their family members.
The bottom line is, while vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19 for the people who get them, they don’t completely eliminate it. The most important thing is for families to talk about the pros and cons and decide together how much risk they’re willing to take so that everyone is comfortable.
Q: I keep reading about new variants or mutations of the COVID-19 virus. What does this mean?
Michael Shea, MD, Intensivist and Chief Medical Director, Maui Health: All viruses evolve or change over time. This occurs because the virus is continually mutating as it spreads. When a virus is spreading rapidly in different parts of the world, different mutations can develop in different geographic regions. These become new variants of the virus. When someone travels from one place to another, they can carry these new variants with them.
The reason scientists are concerned is because some of these variants are more contagious or cause more severe disease. Although recent studies show the COVID-19 vaccine is effective in protecting against some variants, the mutations continue and scientists don’t know if the new variants will be more resistant to the COVID-19 vaccine or if treatment will be less effective.
Most importantly, we still have a lot to learn about these COVID-19 variants, and we need to be cautious. That’s why it’s important to continue taking precautions like wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart, avoiding gatherings and washing your hands frequently, even if you’ve been vaccinated or have already been infected with COVID-19.
* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui.” Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealth.org/healthwise.