ST. CLOUD – Healthcare workers, seniors and other high-priority demographics are now receiving the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine.

Even so, CentraCare spokesperson Dr. George Morris says we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Dr. Morris says all residents – even those who have been vaccinated – need to continue following all COVID-19 spread mitigation recommendations in coming months.

“We know no vaccine is perfect, but this one has a 95 percent success rate,” Dr. Morris explained. “While the vaccine is taking effect, we still have a community out there that hasn’t reached what we call ‘herd immunity,’ or community immunity status. In other words, even if one person gets a vaccine, the whole community is not protected.”

“My expectation is – until we get to that herd immunity percentage, which could be from 70 to 90 percent, we will need to be masking, social distancing and decreasing exposures,” he added.

Dr. Morris says these recommendations come directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who are encouraging Americans to continue masking, maintaining safe distances in public and staying home whenever possible for the next three to six months. Dr. Morris says prevention is particularly important in light of a new, reportedly more contagious strain of COVID-19 surging in numerous countries around the world.

“The sooner we get vaccinated, the less likely it is these new strains will roll through our community in a really bad way,” Dr. Morris said. “They’re not more deadly; percentage-wise, they’re not going to kill more people. But, if they infect more people, we’ll just see more cases, more people in the hospital, and more deaths.”

“And that’s another reason why we are trying to do this safely and quickly – so we can put up a little buffer zone to try to minimize those new strains that are likely to go through regions,” Morris added.

Dr. Morris says progress is being made; many CentraCare employees have already received their second doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine.

“Many of our healthcare workers (at CentraCare) have had the second vaccine already because we’re close to five weeks into (vaccinations,)” Morris said. “So, they’ve reached that maximum immunity level. And, our expectations are that we still follow all the guidelines, and that we don’t let our guards down during this time.”

“Let’s just get through this spring,” he added. “Let’s get everybody in our community – or at least as many as possible – so we can get to that 70 to 90 percent success rate.”

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