Q&A: What can the fully vaccinated do? They might be disappointed to find out

The ‘vaccine bonus’ for people who’ve received both Covid-19 jabs remains limited

Covid-19: just 7 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated against coronavirus disease. Source photograph: Getty

Covid-19: just 7 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated against coronavirus disease. Source photograph: Getty

 

It is three weeks since the Government began to ease restrictions for fully vaccinated people. The inoculation of more and more people against Covid-19 in the weeks ahead will raise questions about what they can now do safely. The essential message for the moment is that the easing of restrictions will be limited as the Government focuses on keeping transmission of coronavirus disease to a minimum while trying to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

How much of the population has been vaccinated?
As of Saturday, 852,189 people had received a first dose; 351,874 of them had also received their second dose, making them fully vaccinated. These are mostly healthcare workers, nursing-home residents and staff, and people aged 70 and over. The fully vaccinated amount to just 7 per cent of the population, which compares with 55 per cent in Israel – a country with one of the most advanced Covid-19 vaccination programmes – and 26 per cent in the United States. Ireland is just ahead of the EU average of 6.9 per cent. If you exclude the under-16s from the figures, just 9 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

So what can the fully vaccinated now do?
Two weeks after they receive their second dose of Covid-19 vaccine, fully inoculated people can meet other fully inoculated people, from one other household, indoors, without having to wear masks or staying 2m apart. (The two-week wait allows the vaccine to take full effect.) Nursing-home residents, who were the first to be vaccinated, were permitted to see family and friends again last month as visiting restrictions were eased.

Can fully vaccinated grandparents hug their grandchildren?
Not yet. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre says that fully vaccinated people should not visit a household that includes unvaccinated people. No children have yet been inoculated, partly because they are at lowest risk from Covid-19 and partly because the vaccines have not yet been authorised for use on under-16s, and will not be until clinical trials have been completed. A fully vaccinated granny can hug another fully vaccinated granny, but neither can hug her grandchildren yet, unfortunately.

Is the guidance the same in other countries?
No. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that fully vaccinated grandparents can visit their unvaccinated, healthy children and grandchildren indoors without having to wear masks or staying 2m apart, as long as none of the unvaccinated people are vulnerable or have an underlying health issue that would put them at risk of severe Covid-19. So an American granny can hug her grandchildren, but Irish grannies cannot hug theirs yet.

Is there anything else a fully vaccinated person can do that the unvaccinated can’t?
No. That’s because a lot of the virus is still circulating. The average number of new daily cases in Ireland over the past seven days remains around 400, so there is still quite a bit of infection around, particularly in Cos Donegal, Kildare, Offaly, Dublin and Meath. This means the public has to continue to limit contacts.

But if I am fully vaccinated, how can I spread the virus?
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre says that as vaccines do not confer “sterilising immunity” on everybody who is injected with them, vaccinated people might still be able to transmit Covid-19. (The risk is reduced where two fully vaccinated people meet each other.) The centre says there is evidence that vaccination significantly reduces infection, but it’s too early to say how much it affects transmission. So there is still a risk that the fully vaccinated can contract and transmit the virus, even if they have no symptoms and the vaccines prevent them from getting ill.

So the vaccinated have few benefits over the unvaccinated right now?
That’s right. Fully vaccinated people should continue to take precautions such as washing their hands regularly, observing social distancing and wearing a mask. In other words, they must continue to follow the same public-health rules as the rest of the population. Another reason for everyone to continue to follow public-health measures is the added risk from spreading variants of concern that the vaccines might not be as effective against.

Is there anything the unvaccinated can look forward to in the coming weeks and months?
With luck, yes. The Government is expecting to roll out about a million doses of vaccine a month in April, May and June, with the intention of having inoculated 80 per cent of adults with at least one dose by the end of June. That will help efforts to ease lockdown, but public-health doctors say most changes will be focused on relaxing restrictions on activities outdoors, where the risk of transmission is much lower than indoors. In Israel, the immunised can now use swimming pools and gyms, visit bars, and attend concerts once they have what’s called a green pass. Ireland’s own “vaccine bonus” pass for these kinds of activities is still some months away.