- The US is rolling out two COVID-19 vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, giving engaged couples hope for their coming nuptials.
- But infectious-disease experts told Insider the vaccine would not be rolled out soon enough to save summer 2021 weddings. Most nuptials will require masks and social distancing.
- It will take until May for the public to have vaccine access, another month for the second shot, and it'll take months after that for the world to develop enough immunity to keep all wedding guests safe.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Kerry O'Donoghue has one big plan for 2021: a destination wedding.
O'Donoghue, who lives in California and founded a bridal-wellness company, was supposed to get married in Dublin, Ireland, in August.
When the pandemic hit, she, like millions of other engaged people, had to push her wedding back.
But she thinks her big day will finally happen, with 100 guests in attendance, just nine months from now, thanks to the promising news that a vaccine will be available worldwide as early as spring — much sooner than expected.
O'Donoghue is counting on the vaccine to make the event safe for her family and friends to fly overseas and spend an evening celebrating together, two activities that have been off-limits since March.
She's going to wait until May to send her official invitations, but she's feeling more confident than ever that the wedding might look "normal," with masks being an option to make people more comfortable rather than a requirement to keep people safe.
"I've always wanted a wedding where I can hug our guests," she told Insider. "So I'm hopeful that we'll be able to give hugs."
That normality in large part hinges on her guests getting vaccinated ahead of the wedding.
"I would encourage our guests to get a vaccine just to protect themselves and so that everyone feels more comfortable around each other," she said. But it is a complicated gamble.
Though Pfizer's two-shot vaccine is being rolled out in the US, Europe, and Canada, and Moderna's in the US, with more on the way, it will take until at least May for the general population to start getting their first doses. Immunity doesn't kick in until two weeks after the second dose, administered a month later.
What's more, experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci warn that we can't go back to normal — traveling at will, and hugging strangers — until every country in the world has eliminated the virus by vaccinating at least 70% of their population.
Then there are the logistical nightmares involved in shipping vaccines, quashing anti-vaxxer myths, and making sure everyone in the world gets their two doses.
The existence of COVID-19 vaccine isn't enough to make 2021 weddings the touchy-feely and mask-free celebrations we once knew. If brides and grooms are set on a wedding where guests can ditch their masks, sing at the top of their lungs, and dole out congratulatory hugs, they'll have to wait until late fall at the earliest.
Couples are impatient and don't want to compromise on their wedding plans
Asked earlier this year when we can have big weddings again, Fauci told Insider's Hilary Brueck anything before 2022 could be tricky.
"If we deploy a vaccine and we implement public-health measures, I think it might even be sooner than that. But 2022, I think, is a pretty good bet," Fauci said.
That was in September. Two months later, Pfizer and Moderna released stunning data showing that the first vaccines were ready earlier than expected, and were much more effective than even Fauci's highest hopes — both about 95% effective at preventing sickness from COVID-19. (Fauci had been hoping for 70%.)
O'Donoghue isn't the only one hoping this changes the game for 2021 weddings.
Eight in 10 couples who got engaged in 2020 have set their wedding dates, with nearly 75% of them due to marry in 2021, according to The Knot's 2020 Jewelry & Engagement Study surveying 5,000 US adults.
Add to that the people who postponed their weddings, like Gurleen Bhatia, a California bride, has already had to push back her weeklong Indian wedding celebration twice. She legally married her husband this year, but they're looking to the wedding as a way to officially mark the start of their life together.
The event is scheduled for the last week of June, in California, and Bhatia doesn't plan to postpone again — nor does she want to have COVID restrictions at her wedding.
Although Bhatia and her husband have lowered their guest list from 400 to about 150 people, they're hoping their wedding will look like a prepandemic event.
"I don't really want anyone in a mask," she told Insider. "I want to dance. Everyone is in each other's faces for Indian weddings, so I don't think I would require it unless the venue required it."
The race is on to get everyone vaccinated, but it's going to be complicated
Both Pfizer's shot and Moderna's require two shots per patient to reach their clinical-trial levels of efficacy.
While there are signs that people may have some level of protection after the first shot, the vaccine doesn't become fully effective until two weeks after a patient gets their second dose. Pfizer's doses are given 21 days apart; Moderna's are 28 days apart.
Every state has its own approach to distributing the vaccine as part of the government's Operation Warp Speed, making it a complicated endeavor to work out which out-of-state wedding guests will be fully immunized before the big day.
What is clear is that, if most states won't start filing out shots to the public until May, it's unlikely most guests will have had a full course of the vaccine by the high season of weddings in May and June, and July is pushing it.
Dr. Edgar Herrera Sanchez, an infectious-disease expert and vice chairman of Orlando Health's Infectious Disease Group, told Insider he hoped that engaged couples would scrap 2021 nuptials altogether, or at the very least reschedule to the very end of the year.
"I don't think you'll be able to have a spring wedding. It just doesn't seem feasible," Herrera Sanchez said. "And it would be a very big travesty for any person who gets the virus now and dies from it because it is something that can be prevented. Unfortunately, I see it every day, just people dying from this."
Travel will be tricky until everyone — across the US and the world — is vaccinated
Jenny Chang, a bride in Staten Island, New York, rescheduled her 100-person August wedding for October 2021. Chang considered having a small wedding during the pandemic, but her fiancé has family in Florida and California who would have had to travel to attend.
"It was really going to be unfair to him to do the smaller wedding, because it would be very heavily attended by my family who is in New York and New Jersey and not have as much of his family," Chang, who pushed her wedding back so all their loved ones from various states could come, told Insider.
Chang and her fiancé are counting on their guests to get the vaccine so that they can safely travel and attend the wedding without a mask or socially distanced person in sight.
While October is a much surer bet than June, public-health experts caution couples that we won't be out of the woods.
According to Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci, the world won't be a safe place for concerts, sporting events, and weddings until all countries are vaccinating their citizens.
"If we have the disease elsewhere in the world, it's not clear to me we can go back and do big sports events or open up the bars because like Australia or South Korea. The risk of reinfection will be looming out there," Gates said on his podcast. "So as long as it's in the world, I'm not sure we'll be completely back to normal."
If the majority of a country's population were vaccinated "you still have a lot of infection that has the capability of spreading," Fauci said in the same podcast episode.
Experts say we will be wearing masks and social distancing for some time after we're all vaccinated
Even if, in a perfect world, every guest could get access to and take a COVID-19 vaccine before June when the height of wedding season begins, it wouldn't make for a foolproof plan.
In trials, the vaccine has been shown to be highly effective at preventing people from getting severely sick from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus But it's still unclear whether or not the jab stops people from spreading the virus to others who aren't vaccinated.
That's why experts say we'll be social distancing and wearing masks for most of 2021.
"I think people's perception is you get the vaccine and you're safe and finally we can stop all this masking and social distancing and stuff, but that's not actually reality," Debra Goff, an infectious-disease pharmacist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Insider.
Valentina Ring, a UK planner, anticipates she'll work weddings in 2021, but she doesn't think they'll look "normal" for some time. Ring expects COVID-19 restrictions like mask-wearing will be necessary until there's widespread herd immunity.
"Unless there is a genuine mass testing that is really effective, I still think there are going to be constraints about the number of people who can be in certain spaces," Ring told Insider.
Fauci agrees, telling Insider's Hilary Brueck that "a combination of an effective vaccine and adherence to certain public-health principles will get us to the point where we want to be, by the end of 2021. I never said just the vaccine. You never should abandon the public-health measures," including face masks and social distancing.
Wedding-industry workers don't mind playing the bad guys
Like infectious-disease experts, wedding-industry workers are hesitant to start making firm plans for the year ahead.
There's still the chance an event they work could become a super-spreader event, vaccine or not, and they don't want taint their images in the industry.
Elisabeth Kramer, a wedding planner in Oregon, is checking in with her clients monthly to assess the risk factors for their weddings and keep them abreast of legal restrictions for events in the area (she's even created templates for COVID safety at weddings).
It falls to Kramer to tell engaged couples if their weddings can't happen in the near future, and that focus on safety has made her the bad guy in some couples' eyes. One couple threatened to sue her when she told them gently that their plans broke the law. It's stressful, but she isn't backing down.
"As much as I love weddings, as much as I love people being able to access joy, I am more in support of people not dying," Kramer said.
Ivan Moore, a DJ in Ohio, is not working any weddings until the fall of 2021. When he does return, he's prepared to change how weddings work to make them safer, such as having people text him song requests instead of coming up to him as they did in the past, especially if he doesn't know if guests have been vaccinated or not.
But he'd rather know that everyone had had the shot. "I'd much rather be in a room with people who are vaccinated than people who aren't," Moore said.
There'll be a day when vaccines make weddings stress free, just not yet
Soon-to-be-wed couples see the vaccine as a cure-all for their parties.
Bhatia said she doesn't know how to navigate pandemic safety and vaccine conversations with her guests. She's hoping they'll all take the vaccine so that she can avoid confrontations altogether and have the close-quartered and mask-free affair of her dreams.
"I don't want to shift the way I would imagine my reception to be," she said. "I think we would be able to have some kind of normal wedding."
After a year of disappointments, it's easy to understand why engaged couples are clinging to a vaccine for hope. But that hope, about what a vaccine can do for them and their guests, is misguided.
Vaccine or not, a 2021 wedding will be just like a 2020 one. For a true wedding fantasy — one devoid of stress and public-health measures and full of warm embraces and sheer joy — to come to fruition, it's best to pull out that 2022 wedding planner.
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