After grandparents or older parents receive the coronavirus vaccine shot, is it safe to visit?
One expert from Northwestern University says not yet.
“Nothing changes after the vaccine. We will still need to socially distance and wear our masks. We should avoid our frail elders, because we just do not know the strength of their immune response to the vaccine and whether they have built up sufficient antibodies," Northwestern Medicine geriatrician and professor Dr. June McKoy said.
According to the physician, older adults naturally have diminished immune responses as they age, which continues to put them at risk for the coronavirus.
So when can families reunite with their older relatives?
McKoy said that until the U.S. has reached herd immunity, she would not advise visiting grandparents or older adults. She added that if grandparents lives in a long term care facilities, they will likely remain unable to take visitors in accordance with state rules.
As defined by McKoy, herd immunity, otherwise referred to as population immunity, means "as more people are protected from a disease, it becomes harder for the disease to spread from person to person."
The two ways to achieve herd immunity, according to the doctor, are through vaccinations against the disease or through exposure to the disease.
“With herd immunity, we need to predict the percentage of the population that needs to have immunity in order for the population to achieve herd level," McKoy said. "Herd immunity varies from disease to disease. The more contagious a disease, the greater the proportion of the population that needs to be immune to the disease to stop it from spreading."
For example, McKoy said measles holds a 95% vaccination rate, which would then give protection to the remaining 5% who do not get vaccinated. For COVID-19, she said the U.S. will need 70% of the population vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.
“We know everyone who gets the COVID-19 infection develops an immune response, but we do not know how long that immunity lasts," McKoy said of those who are infected with the virus.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said this week that if people have contracted COVID-19 and recovered, they should still opt to receive the vaccine. If an individual was treated for coronavirus symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, the health department said that person should wait 90 days before getting a vaccine.
In terms of exchanging hugs and forgoing masks, the Northwestern doctor said people cannot stop wearing face coverings or social distancing until herd immunity is achieved.
As of Wednesday night, 1,293,075 coronavirus vaccines had been delivered to providers across Illinois, while 496,100 doses had been allocated to the federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership Program for long-term care facilities, IDPH said. That brought the total number of doses sent to Illinois to 1,789,175.
A total of 55,865 doses were administered Wednesday, officials said, lifting the total number of vaccine doses given in the state to 829,488, including 131,284 for long-term care facilities. The latest figures brought the 7-day rolling average administered daily to 36,728 doses, according to IDPH data.
Illinois entered Phase 1B of its vaccination plan Monday, opening up vaccinations to people age 65 years and older as well as "frontline essential workers," which includes first responders, education workers like teachers and support staff, childcare workers, grocery store employees, postal service workers and more.
Phase 1B includes roughly 3.2 million Illinois residents, officials say.
Illinois health officials on also reported 4,191 new cases of COVID-19 as well as 103 additional deaths attributed to the virus on Thursday.
According to IDPH, Thursday's new cases brought the statewide total number of confirmed cases to 1,116,372 since the pandemic began. The fatalities reported Thursday lifted the death toll to 19,067.
In the last 24 hours, Illinois officials said 100,119 test specimens were returned to state laboratories, putting the state at 15,733,562 tests performed during the pandemic.
The seven-day rolling positivity rate on all tests was 4.3%, down slightly from the day before. The positivity rate for unique individuals tested also dropped slightly to 5.5% Thursday.
As of Wednesday night, 2,802 patients in Illinois were in the hospital with coronavirus, including 567 patients in Illinois in intensive care units and 292 on ventilators.