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Why the vaccine isn't a green light to return to life before COVID-19

While vaccinations are key to ending the pandemic, doctors say you still need to be cautious.

TAMPA, Fla. — More than four million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been given out to seniors, medical professionals and first responders in Florida.

We're on the way to significantly reducing the dangerous spread of COVID-19 across the state and the country. While we may be seeing lower case numbers since our highest spike in January, we're not in the clear yet.

Many have been treating the vaccine as a green light or 'go ahead' to start returning to life before the pandemic, disregarding mask mandates, having large gatherings, going on vacation and visiting others in close contact. Doctors say that's not how we should be treating the vaccine.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health at the University of South Florida says we still need to be cautious because there's a lot that's still unknown.

"There is no get out of jail free card. The vaccine, if it works, it reduces the likelihood you're going to get very sick, not reduce the fact that you may still actually get the virus and get a little sick. In either event, you can still get it and pass it along to other people," explained Dr. Wolfson.

Other doctors agree. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, while necessary, the vaccine does have its limits. “You may be protected against clinically recognizable disease, but you could still get infected and have the virus in your nasal pharynx that potentially could be spread to another person,” Dr. Fauci said. 

That means if you're waiting on a visit to people who may be vaccinated, like parents or grandparents, you still have to exercise caution. Dr. Wolfson says it's not the best idea to go until you are vaccinated as well.

 "If all of the people in your community that you're living with or playing with, if all of them have the vaccine then everything inside that bubble is protected."

While we wait for widespread vaccine availability, make sure you're continuing to take all safety precautions like hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask. Once you, your friends and family are vaccinated, make sure you wait at least two weeks until after your second dose of the vaccine to plan a safe gathering.