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UW doctor on how we can ensure return to normal ‘sooner rather than later’

Buttons sit on a table ready to be handed to the first volunteers receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at UW Medicine, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

While limitations imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have continued to burden Americans, a ramping up of vaccine distribution by the end of spring could have the country on its way to a return to some semblance of normal life.

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That’s according to Dr. Vin Gupta, an affiliate professor at the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who believes that if we can keep cases down in the interim, prospects look good for the latter half of 2021.

“Fortunately, we have something to look forward to, which is normalcy,” Dr. Gupta said Tuesday. “And I think that normalcy is going to happen sooner rather than later, especially if you get the vaccine as soon as you’re eligible.”

While vaccine doses have been limited in the early phases of distribution, Dr. Gupta expects production — and subsequently, distribution — to increase by May and June, to an extent where “anybody who wants a vaccine will be able to get it.”

“This rationing is going to end quickly,” he predicted.

Dr. Gupta also clarified what exactly the vaccine is for, noting that while it’s a key piece of the puzzle in ending this pandemic, it’s also important to recognize its limitations in the near term.

“These vaccines will keep you away from the ICU,” he detailed. “What they won’t necessarily do is prevent sniffles potentially from COVID-19, mild symptoms, or even asymptomatic infection where you could unwittingly get exposed and infected with the virus even if you’ve received the vaccine, and then transmit it to others — that possibility still exists.”

Similar to the flu vaccine, there’s a chance that it’s possible to become infected with COVID-19 even after getting vaccinated. What the vaccine will definitively do is reduce the chance of dangerous symptoms that lead to hospitalization, and potentially death, while limiting the virus’ spread.

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That means ensuring that we’re all masking up, maintaining safe physical distancing, and avoiding nonessential activities until enough people have been vaccinated to ensure herd immunity. If we do that, Gupta says, we can look forward to finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.

“What everyone needs to know, regardless of the variants emerging, all these vaccines are broadly effective at preventing severe illness from this virus. That is the most important thing here — they will save your life,” he said. “While you’re waiting, please continue to be as vigilant as you have been all these many months; it’s temporary.”

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