Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Tuesday, March 16, 2021 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

Here’s what you should know as more people in Austin get vaccinated against Covid-19

As vaccinations ramp up a year into the coronavirus pandemic, there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. But we’re not in the clear yet.

Morning Edition host Jennifer Stayton talked with KUT’s health care reporter, Ashley Lopez, about what our lives are going to be like as more people get vaccinated against Covid-19.

This conversation was lightly edited for clarity.

Stayton: Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded Texas’ mask mandate and any business occupancy limits last week, even though most doctors and public health officials said that’s not safe to do yet. When will it be safe – from a public health standpoint – to fully open?

Lopez: If you live in Austin, you’ve probably been hearing about the different stages of reopening, which are informed by public health experts. At stage 1, Covid hospital admissions are at a seven-day average of zero. From a public health perspective, that’s when things are safe – when there isn’t a constant flow of people going to the hospital very sick with Covid-19. That would prompt the city to reopen bars and restaurants, etc., to 100 percent capacity.

What percentage of people need to be vaccinated before it’s safe to say people don’t have to wear masks anymore? What percentage of people need to be vaccinated before we reach what is considered herd immunity?

We don’t know yet. There isn’t enough research to suggest that once everyone is vaccinated there is no risk of spreading the disease. For the vaccines that we do know  for polio and measles, for example  herd immunity is reached when 80 percent and 95 percent of the population, respectively, is vaccinated. We need more research, but it’s possible Covid would probably be in that range, too.

Experts have said once we know that vaccines limit the transmission of Covid and around three-fourths of the population is vaccinated, then we’d be in a good position to have conversations about opening things up and people taking off their masks, and moving toward something that feels like a more normal way of life.

Right now we’re hearing that you can still get Covid-19 if you have been vaccinated; it’s just that you might not get as sick and maybe not require hospitalization. But might the vaccines help prevent people who are vaccinated from spreading it? Those are two different kinds of questions but both really important to think about.

Right, and we are kind of in the early stages of knowing what that second piece looks like. We don’t know how these vaccines hold up among the variants, for example, and in large populations. It will take some time for us to get solid science on that.

Is there any concern among public health officials and doctors that with so much focus on vaccinations, people are not getting tested for Covid-19?

All the things that were lifesaving before are still going to be needed even as people get vaccinated  and that includes Covid testing. Even if you are vaccinated and you are around people outside your home, you should wear a mask – preferably two masks. I think all those important measures are still going to be necessary.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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