Williamsport, Pa. – The COVID-19 vaccine has been rolling out under the state Department of Health's plan: in phases 1a, 1b, and 1c.
Frontline and other healthcare workers are among the first to receive the vaccine in phase 1a. UPMC said in a press briefing today that system-wide, they are administering "thousands of vaccines a day," and that nearly half of their clinical staff have been vaccinated thus far: 41,700 first doses across the entire UPMC system, according to Tami Minnier, Chief Quality Officer at UPMC.
Geisinger Health system is also actively vaccinating their frontline workers, reporting last week that they vaccinate nearly 1,000 per day, amounting to more than 10,000 vaccines.
Protecting these frontline workers is vital to allow them to continue to provide care in their communities.
And while they are protected from contracting and falling ill to the virus, they still go home to family members who are not yet vaccinated. The question becomes: are vaccinated individuals still able to asymptomatically spread COVID-19 to their family members?
According to Dr. Rutal Dalal, medical director, Infectious Diseases, UPMC in the Susquehanna Region, the answer is yes.
Unlike an influenza vaccine, the mRNA vaccines are not composed of live viruses, so there is no infectious virus to spread from a vaccinated person to someone else, explained Dr. Dalal.
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"However, this is still a novel virus that we’re learning more about every day and we do not yet know if a vaccinated person who encounters the virus can still experience asymptomatic infection," he continued. "An asymptomatic infection occurs when a person is exposed to the virus in the community and the virus can still replicate in their body, but they don’t have symptoms because their immune system stifles the infection as a result of vaccination."
The bottom line is that because the vaccinated person may still be asymptomatic, they could potentially spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, said Dr. Dalal.
According to the distribution phase guidelines set by the PA Dept. of Health, the general population won't be vaccinated for months. That means people who are vaccinated still need to take precautions.
"Given that families may not all get vaccinated at the same time, those who have been vaccinated should continue to practice the preventive measures when they are out in the community to decrease the chance of introducing the virus in the home through asymptomatic infection," recommended Dr. Dalal.
"Likewise, even when a whole family is vaccinated, continuing to practice these measures will be important until the vaccinations are widespread throughout our communities."
"Until we can get control over the spread at a much greater level and enough people have been vaccinated to slow the spread, we will need to continue working together to decrease spread of the virus," said Dr. Dalal.
"Masking, observing social distancing, and diligent handwashing and hygiene" continue to be important, said Dr. Dalal, "and getting vaccinated when appropriate and given the opportunity."