Vaccines and safety lead to post-COVID-19 world

Pat Winokur wearing mask
Patricia Winokur, MD, thanks Iowans for their sacrifices and solidarity through the COVID-19 pandemic, talks of a bright post-pandemic world through vaccination.

This past year, Iowans have made great sacrifices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have donned masks, skipped holidays, weddings, and birthdays, and physically distanced ourselves from loved ones.

For these sacrifices, thank you. You’ve helped protect your friends, neighbors, and the health care workers who have worked tirelessly on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19. It has been a long and difficult road, and many of us have also experienced profound loss and grief.  

Now, expanded access to vaccines offers hope and promise for Iowans. Mass vaccination, along with continued safe behaviors, is the ticket to a future where grandparents can safely reunite with grandkids. A future where we can share in the joy of cheering on our teams and attending concerts together in stadiums. We have an opportunity to stop the spread of COVID-19 and be free to safely return to these activities we cherish—if we all do our part. 

So far, more than 1.3 million Iowans have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine—important progress in which we should take pride. This progress has already made a meaningful difference in the form of declining hospitalizations and deaths, as well as relief for our dedicated, but overburdened, health care workers. 

Our progress will only accelerate in the coming weeks and months. Starting April 5, all Iowans over age 16 will become eligible for a vaccine at no cost. We should be encouraged and excited by this news. Broad vaccination is the cornerstone to achieving the “herd immunity” that will help suppress the spread of this coronavirus.   

I know we all are reading and hearing a lot about the COVID-19 vaccines—including the various brands available and their different efficacy rates. This can be confusing and overwhelming.  

What is most important to understand is that all three authorized vaccines—Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson—are safe and effective and have been completely evaluated and thoroughly vetted by expert clinicians, researchers, and public health authorities.  

I’m confident in that thorough vetting process because I led a successful COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial site based here at the University of Iowa. To gain authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these vaccines are required to undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are both safe and effective. 

After being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, individuals can safely resume some activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can visit other vaccinated people indoors in our community without wearing masks or social distancing. Fully vaccinated people can also visit indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease, without masks or distancing.  

In other words, people who are fully vaccinated can safely engage in behaviors that move us closer to the pre-pandemic normal. 

However, it’s important to emphasize that as we enter a transitional period in which some people are fully vaccinated and others are not, we must continue to take responsible precautions to protect the people of our communities.  

Even fully vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and practice physical distancing in public locations such as grocery stores, health care facilities, and workplaces. This is especially important when you may be in close proximity to unvaccinated people who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19—for example, those with conditions like asthma or diabetes. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel here in Iowa, and a more normal reality is within reach. I’m hopeful that working together to keep each other safe will not only prevent another surge that results in more illness and loss of life, but will also allow all of us to enjoy the rewards of greater personal freedom in the near future. 

About the author

Patricia Winokur, MD, is Executive Dean, University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. She is the principal investigator for the UI trial of the new COVID-19 vaccine made by Novavax, and led the UI site clinical trial for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine. 

This editorial was published in The Gazette on Monday, April 3, 2021.