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It's time to stop waffling about this: if you're vaccinated, you can move on with your life. Enough with the obsession over breakthrough cases. COVID-19 is never going away. Never. It will become endemic, like the flu or the common cold or any manner of other diseases we lived our lives knowing we could get before March 2020. We still left the house, went to work, got on crowded subways, ate at restaurants, went to concerts. Maybe now we'll do some of that in masks. If you're vaccinated, the odds are overwhelming that if you are exposed to the novel coronavirus, you will not be hospitalized or die. The situation in many American hospitals right now is dire, and our collective treatment of healthcare workers at the moment is shameful, but it is almost exclusively the unvaccinated fueling this problem.
And, as Craig Spencer, an ER doctor and Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University, laid out in an article in The Atlantic on Thursday, you are in no way as likely to spread the virus when you're vaccinated compared to an unvaccinated person.
To spread the coronavirus, you have to have the coronavirus. And vaccinated people are far less likely to have the coronavirus—period...
Despite concern about waning immunity, vaccines provide the best protection against infection. And if someone isn’t infected, they can’t spread the coronavirus. It’s truly that simple. Additionally, for those instances of a vaccinated person getting a breakthrough case, yes, they can be as infectious as an unvaccinated person. But they are likely contagious for a shorter period of time when compared with the unvaccinated, and they may harbor less infectious virus overall.
...Among the unvaccinated, the virus travels unhindered on a highway with multiple off-ramps and refueling stations. In the vaccinated, it gets lost in a maze of dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs. Every so often, it pieces together an escape route, but in most scenarios, it finds itself cut off, and its journey ends. It can go no further.
By all means, get yourself a booster shot if that'll give you some peace of mind. If you remain at higher risk, you may want to continue avoiding places where you're likely to find indoor crowds. At places like supermarkets, which anyone, including higher-risk citizens, will need to frequent, it doesn't hurt any of us to wear a mask. If you're going to interact with a high-risk person, you should take all the precautions you feel are necessary—getting tested before, meeting outside, wearing a mask. We need to get kids vaccinated, even if it is very rare for them to have severe outcomes. But by and large, the way forward is clear: get vaccinated, then choose your own adventure. Life goes on. Get back to yours.
This also seems like better messaging for the vaccination drive than, "you can maybe still get the virus, and your life might not change that much..." Even, "protect yourself and others" isn't the best message for many Americans. "Get vaxxed and people will leave you alone" might be the ticket. We don't have time for equivocation about what the vaccines do, doubt and inconsistency that does not reflect the reality. If you're vaccinated, you're less likely to get COVID, less likely to have a severe case, and less likely to spread it—all by wide margins. Billions of people are fully vaccinated without any adverse consequences. We're doing fine!
Consider all of the above The Carrot, though we ought to also just straight-up pay people to get the shot like New York City has begun to do. The Stick is, so far, the large-employer mandate the Biden administration has instituted and some state-level mandates that go beyond that. Personally, I would go with restricting bars, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, concert halls—anywhere that large groups of people congregate on a voluntary basis—to those who provide proof of vaccination. You want to enjoy some of the best things in life? Get vaxxed and move on with yours.
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