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Can SARS-CoV-2 be transmitted after vaccination against COVID-19?

US approves BioNTech Pfizer vaccination
US approves BioNTech Pfizer vaccination

We are still not sure whether the COVID-19 vaccination gives safety not only to the vaccinated person, but also to those with whom they come into contact. Therefore, even after taking two doses of the vaccine, everyone will still be cautious in contacts and wearing a mask.

Experts note that vaccine research usually lasts about 10 years, while preparations against COVID-19 have been worked on for only a year. This means that scientists have skipped many steps, focusing on the two most important: whether the vaccine is safe and whether it is effective.

Studies have shown that it is safe (including no severe side effects), effective (after its administration, people do not get severe COVID-19), but the question is still open whether the vaccine is able to neutralize the virus from the oral and nasal mucosa, thus preventing its transmission.

It is impossible for the body to react in the first seconds after vaccination. This means that coughing or sneezing can transmit the virus to and infect un-vaccinated people. 

Therefore, the current guidelines say that people who are vaccinated must still wear face masks and keep their distance. There is no equality sign between vaccination and the suspension of preventive measures. This also applies to vaccinated medical personnel, because a nurse or doctor who has contact with a covid patient can transfer the virus mechanically on the skin or apron – explains Dr. Paweł Grzesiowski, adviser to the Supreme Medical Council for combating COVID-19.

Who is protected by the COVID-19 vaccination

So far, we know that vaccines approved in the European Union protect approximately 95 percent against full-blown COVID-19. Whether it is also before the SARS-CoV-2 infection itself, which is asymptomatic, we will not know until some time.

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– Of course, in clinical trials, we observed vaccinated people and their families, and these studies allow us to hope for it, but it was still only clinical trials, and we need to check it in real life – says the expert.

According to specialists, it is only when population immunity is achieved that it will be possible to give up masks. At the same time, you also have to be very careful, because we are already hearing about mutations today that may be less sensitive to acquired immunity. And given that we cannot be sure which variant of the virus may attack us, it is too early to conclude that vaccination will eliminate other forms of protection against the virus.

– It seems that whether it is post-vaccination or post-infection immunity will not give us certainty for the time being and it may be that for some time we will have to maintain the existing security measures, i.e. frequent disinfection, keeping distance, wearing masks – says Dr. Grzesiowski.

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Why vaccinate against COVID-19, when there are still so many unknowns?

So you may wonder why we need vaccinations, if they do not provide certainty about the spread of the virus. There is at least one important reason.

– Vaccinations protect us from the symptomatic and severe course of the disease, as do vaccinations against pneumococci and rotaviruses. Thanks to them, we hope that the vaccinated person will not go to the hospital and will not die of infection. But we still do not know how to answer whether the vaccinated will continue to take part in the chain of diseases, concludes Dr. Grzesiowski.

The interdisciplinary COVID-19 advisory team at the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences on COVID-19 vaccines has developed a position paper in which specialists discuss the risks and explain why vaccination is the only rational choice that will enable us to recover faster from a pandemic.

“We don’t know yet how long a strong immune response will last and whether two doses of the vaccine will last for the next year or several. If the acquired immunity proves to be short-term, it will be necessary to modify the strategy and administer booster doses. 

Despite these unknowns, there is no doubt that as soon as the COVID-19 vaccine is released to the market, the benefits of adopting it outweigh the risks associated with it, ‘reads the experts of the PAN team.

Monika Wysocka,  Zdrowie.pap.pl, Polskiobserwator.de

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