When Americans began receiving coronavirus vaccines last month, people started fantasizing about the first thing they’d do when the pandemic ends: go back to work, visit family, hug friends. But the public discussion soon shifted. One news article after another warned about everything that could go wrong: Protection isn’t immediate; vaccinated people can still transmit the virus; vaccinated people might get mild infections that could become chronic; vaccines might not work as well against new coronavirus variants. “COVID-19 Vaccine Doesn’t Mean You Can Party Like It’s 1999,” one headline admonished. Can vaccinated people at least hang out with one another? Nope, masks and distancing are still required. “Bottom line,” another article concluded ominously: “You will need to wear a face mask after you’re vaccinated until COVID-19 cases become nearly nonexistent.”
Although scientists are still learning about how much the two government-approved vaccines reduce transmission of the coronavirus, the evidence shows that their efficacy against disease is phenomenal. Although not zero-risk, close contact between two people is safer if one has received a vaccine, and safer still if both are vaccinated. For this reason, public-health experts elsewhere in the world are emphasizing hope. In a new social-media campaign, health officials from across the European Union stress that vaccination will help people get their lives back. “I’ll do it to protect my father and organise a big family weekend get-together,” declares Belgium’s chief scientific adviser. “I did it because I want us to live normally again,” says the chief coronavirus adviser in Romania.