Doctor says 'it's not terribly scary' if your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine gets delayed

·3 min read
Debbie Frier, registered nurse, left, injects Leah Sawatsky, an emergency room nurse, right, with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Regina General Hospital in Regina on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.
Debbie Frier, registered nurse, left, injects Leah Sawatsky, an emergency room nurse, right, with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Regina General Hospital in Regina on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

(Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

As of Sunday, about 23,000 people in Saskatchewan are awaiting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But how safe are they from becoming ill while waiting?

Dr. Anand Kumar is a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba and an attending physician at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.

He said that while you're not home free after the first shot, there is good news.

"After you've been vaccinated, for about two weeks, you won't have any protection," he said. "For the next few weeks, you'll have somewhere between 50 and 80 percent protection, depending on which vaccine that you took."

In those first two weeks, there's no difference in infection rates between people who got the vaccine and people who didn't get the vaccine, he said. After that, your protection climbs.

Kumar said that with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine you'll get about 50 per cent protection after that first two weeks and with the Moderna vaccine you'll get up to 80 per cent.

Saskatchewan is waiting up to 42 days to deliver the second dose of the vaccine.

Kumar said it's "not terribly scary" if your second dose gets delayed, because of that protection you receive from the first.

"Your level of protection on a single dose of vaccine continues to climb up to at least … a month and a half," he said. "So after that period of time, you may have as much as 80 to 90 per cent protection. So your protection isn't decreasing during that time. It's probably increasing. So you're still quite safe."

Precautions still need to be taken

Even more importantly, your protection from severe disease or dying is "almost 100 per cent" after your first dose.

But you still need to take precautions, he said.

"There's good evidence that you get protection from disease; there is not good data yet to demonstrate that you don't get infected at all," he said.

"That's the reason you want to continue the precautions anyway. Maybe not so much to protect yourself, but to protect the people around you that you love that aren't vaccinated yet."

Kumar said even if you've been vaccinated, it's still possible to get infected, be asymptomatic and spread it to other people.

Vaccine a 'morale boost' for nurses

Some of the people still waiting for that second dose are nurses.

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said getting the vaccine boosts morale.

"The people that have been vaccinated definitely are feeling much safer," Zambory said.

"When registered nurses go through their go to a COVID-positive patient's room, even though they've got all the personal protective equipment, there still is that fear in their mind, 'Is this going to be the time when I get infected with COVID?'"

She said that when the vaccine was first announced, there was some anxiety around the time frame within which you needed to receive the second dose, but that has been alleviated since it's known that time frame can be extended.

"Where our members' anxiety really is the highest really isn't the length of time between the doses," she said. "That frankly, is being ... prioritized as a health-care worker to get a vaccination, period. That's really where their concern lies."

She said more needs to be done with planning the vaccination rollout to raise the morale of registered nurses. Some nurses are among the workers who had been told they would be prioritized once Phase 2 of the rollout was detailed, but then were later not included in the priority list by the province.

"While there's some morale boost for the people who get it, unfortunately, when the news came out about those changes in Phase 2, it actually sent morale in the majority of registered nurses plummeting."

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