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A start toward normal life

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is like the dawn of a new day for a lot of people.

In numbers relatively small but growing, they’re looking forward to a quick return to the time when they could snuggle with grandkids, go to the salon, party with the gang, get on the dance floor, host a family gathering, and hug, hug, hug.

The vaccine feels like a golden ticket.

In a way, it almost certainly is, but there are several things to take into account before immediately jumping back into your former life, no matter how much you long for it.

Unfortunately, that COVID-19 shot doesn’t give you instant protection. It’s not like a force field that suddenly engulfs you.

You’ll need a second vaccine, plus a week or two after that, to get to peak resistance. A study of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine showed people reached maximum immunity more than seven days after the second vaccine, which comes three weeks after the first shot. The wait for Moderna’s second shot is four weeks.

Data on the effectiveness after Dose 1 is less clear. Pfizer reports 52 percent effectiveness, with immunity building after Day 12. Others are slicing and dicing that data in different ways to reach different, controversial conclusions, some higher and some lower. But few dispute that your best protection comes after the second dose.

Also unknown: Whether an immunized person can spread the disease. After Dose 2, you may not need to wonder whether your grandkids will give COVID-19 to you, but can you still give it to your grandkids? That’s not clear, and it’s the reason you’ll still be asked to wear masks and be socially distanced for the months it will take to get everyone immunized.

Then there’s the wild card. New variants of the disease are popping up, and at least three have appeared in the U.S. Even as COVID-19 case rates are declining, scientists worry the variants could drive a new surge.

The vaccines offer protection against the UK, South African and Brazil variants, Dr. Anthony Fauci noted Monday during a White House briefing. While the vaccines are somewhat less effective at preventing illness caused by the variants, they can protect against getting the kind of severe case that leads to hospitalization and death, Fauci said.

The more contagious UK variant is likely to be dominant in the U.S. by March, some experts say, creating a race to vaccinate to prevent spread and head off new mutations.

Getting ahead of that really might be the golden ticket, so there’s plenty of reason to be glad if you’re immunized. Just be a bit cautious, and mindful of the safety of those who haven’t been so lucky.

* Guest editorial from the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill.

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