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My mom turns 80 this summer. Can we plan a party, now that Canada has COVID-19 vaccines?

Vaxx Populi: Hopefully, people in high-risk categories will be vaccinated by mid-2021, but the virus may still be transmissible. Experts suggest proceeding with optimistic caution.

“I’d start planning,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases physician in Edmonton told Maclean’s. “I wouldn’t book the hall or the hotel, but I’d definitely start getting people lined up.” Kevin Wilson, an epidemiologist in Halifax, concurs: “Start planning it in your head, but don’t buy the tickets yet.”

The big question is when

On that, experts hedge their advice. Saxinger hopes that by mid-to-late summer “most older people who have the highest risk are likely to have been vaccinated, unless something unforeseen happens.” Then she adds a warning: “Unforeseen things happen—that was all of 2020.” 

RELATED: There’s a new strain of COVID-19. Will the vaccines work against it?

Dr. Robyn Lee, an infectious diseases epidemiologist in Toronto, is more hesitant. “I really wouldn’t start planning anything for this summer, unfortunately, especially for vulnerable people,” such as a parent or grandparent in a high-risk category. She points out that while they should be vaccinated, “it doesn’t mean everyone in their family will be. There’s still that risk [in] gathering in large groups.” That’s because there will still be huge chunks of the population who haven’t been vaccinated by the summer or early fall, when the weather is best for such gatherings. And while those who have been vaccinated are largely protected from COVID-19, no one knows if the new vaccines also stop vaccinated people from spreading COVID-19 to others. Researchers are trying to answer that query right now.

“I would love to be wrong,” Lee says. “It’s a very large vaccination program with a lot of moving parts.” 

Wilson is equally cautious about locking in any precise timing for a big family party. “It’s a pandemic, and planning far in the future is probably still going to be hard for a while, as my cancelled trip to Scotland from last March can attest.”

Saxinger says she’s going to start plotting a “bit of a family get together to catch up on missed birthdays…[and] travel to see family that I haven’t seen in a long, long time. And I think that’s not an unreasonable thing to look to, but I don’t think I’d put down a deposit yet.” 

As Canada rolls out the country’s most complex vaccination project to date, Maclean’s presents Vaxx Populi, an ongoing series in which Patricia Treble tackles the most pressing questions related to the new COVID-19 vaccines. Send us a question you’d like answered at vaccines@macleans.ca. If you have specific questions about your own health, we recommend consulting a family doctor or the local public health authority in your area.