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Hope is on the horizon, but you still need to wear a mask.

Everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually get one. However, supplies will be limited for several months.

UNC Health continues to follow the COVID-19 vaccine distribution guidance released by the CDC and NCDHHS. More people will get the vaccines as supply increases throughout 2021; at some point, it will be available to everyone.

We talked to UNC Health infectious disease expert Cynthia Gay, MD, MPH, who leads the Moderna clinical trial at UNC, about what you should do before and after you get the COVID-19 vaccines.

What to Do While You’re Waiting for the COVID-19 Vaccines

Vaccines are one important tool in our toolkit to fight COVID-19, but we still need to use all of our tools if we hope to end this pandemic. This means it’s still important to adhere to the following safety measures:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others whenever possible.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

“We know that these things are effective,” Dr. Gay says. “We need to take the same precautions we’ve been taking because we know they work.”

How will you know when it’s your turn? Pay attention to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and information from trusted news sources. You also can ask your doctor.

Finally, try the best you can to maintain your motivation to follow public health guidance and reduce transmission of the virus. We are living through the most difficult and deadly period of the pandemic so far, and the winter will be long. The vaccines give us a reason to hope that we can return to a more normal existence in the near future, but we need to hold on for now.

What You Should Do After You Receive the COVID-19 Vaccines

Even after you get vaccinated, you will still need to take the same precautions you were taking prior to receiving the vaccine—wearing a mask, washing your hands and staying 6 feet apart from others.

“Even some time after we get the vaccine, we will need to continue doing those things because not everyone will get vaccinated,” Dr. Gays says. “Also, vaccines are not 100 percent protective, and we don’t yet know if they will prevent asymptomatic infection.”

That means that while the vaccines are 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, we don’t yet know if they prevent spreading the virus to others even if you don’t have any symptoms.

“I don’t think anyone wants to relax the precautions, get the infection, even if they have no symptoms, pass it along to someone else who’s at risk for severe disease and could get quite sick,” Dr. Gay says. “We’ll get to where we want to be much quicker if everybody follows all the recommended precautions, including getting the vaccine when they’re eligible.”

Cynthia Gay, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases in the UNC School of Medicine. She is a practicing physician and the medical director of the UNC HIV Cure Center.

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