1. Do masks really protect against COVID-19?
Public health officials continue to urge members of the public to wear masks whenever they are around people they don’t live with. Mask wearing reduces the chances that you will catch or spread COVID-19. Wearing two masks at once — a cloth mask over a medical mask — is more effective than wearing one mask.
2. How effective are the vaccines?
There are currently three vaccines approved in the United States. One made by Pfizer is 95% effective at preventing disease. Another by Moderna, which is 94% effective. Each of these requires two vaccinations a few weeks apart to reach full effect.
A third vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was approved at the end of February. Johnson & Johnson is 66% effective at preventing moderate illness and 85% effective at preventing severe illness. It requires a single shot rather than the two required for the other vaccines.
3. How safe are the vaccines?
All three approved vaccines are considered very safe, much safer than catching COVID-19. The CDC estimates between 2 and 5 people per million who have taken a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine have experienced anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction requiring immediate medical intervention. That’s at most 0.000005% Compare that to the COVID-19 death rate in Douglas County, which as of Saturday was 2.1% of all cases. According to Oregon Health Authority statistics, the death rate for people over 80 is 20.4%.
4. What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity means enough people have become immune to prevent the disease from spreading through the community. There are only two ways for the community to achieve herd immunity. One is for enough people to catch the disease and develop immunity. The other is for enough people to be vaccinated. The vaccination option would save many lives, especially among seniors. Close to half of the more than 2,000 Oregonians who have died of the illness have been 80 or older. In other words, the life you save by getting vaccinated could be your own, or it could be somebody’s grandma.
5. Why is it taking so long to vaccinate everybody?
There are a couple of reasons. One is that federally delivered vaccine supplies aren’t enough to cover the current demand. Another is that the state has not, until recently, shared its supply with the counties on a per capita basis. Some counties, including Douglas, got the short end of the stick in the initial weeks of the rollout. With fewer vaccines to go around than people who want them, the state separated people into groups and determined who would become eligible when.
6. When will I become eligible for a vaccine?
If you are a health care worker, first responder, education worker or senior 65 or older then you’re already eligible. The next groups to become eligible, on March 29, will be adults 45 to 64 with underlying conditions like heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and obesity. May 1, front-line workers and younger adults with underlying conditions will be eligible. All members of the public 45 and up will be eligible June 1 and everyone 16 and older will be eligible July 1. The time frames could get moved up if the state begins receiving more vaccines than expected.
7. What can I expect after I am vaccinated?
It takes two doses and a few weeks delay after the second dose before your body develops immunity to COVID-19. Many people report tiredness or even mild flu-like symptoms like aches and chills for a couple of days after being vaccinated. That’s your immune system going to work, learning to tackle the virus. Until we achieve herd immunity, you’ll still need to take precautions like mask wearing and social distancing, because it’s not yet known whether vaccinated people can be carriers who pass the virus to others.
8. How serious are the variants?
The longer the virus has free reign through large swaths of the world population, the more times we can expect it to mutate. Currently, three mutations have scientists concerned. South African and British variants have not reached Douglas County, but a Brazilian variant case has been identified here. All three appear to be more contagious than the original. Research is underway to determine how deadly they are compared to the original and how effective current vaccines are against the new strains.
9. Are there more flu deaths than COVID-19 deaths?
In a word, no. Nationwide, more than 500,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the year it’s been with us. The flu kills between 21,000 and 61,000 each year, with some strains being more deadly than others. However, the Spanish Flu of 1918, which lasted between one and two years, did kill about 675,000 Americans. That’s largely because there were no vaccines to protect people against it. The people of that time had to achieve herd immunity the hard way.
10. When will life get back to normal?
Life won’t really get back to normal until we reach herd immunity. Local public health officials are hopeful that will be this fall, so long as enough people get vaccinated when they become eligible. If some virus mutations develop that are resistant to the vaccinations, it could take longer. If more vaccine doses become available more quickly, it could happen sooner.
Sources: Except where otherwise noted, the answers are based on information from the CDC and state and local public health officials.