COVID-19: Vaccines and flattening the curve

March 27, 2020 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • Having too many people sick at once can prevent critical care from getting to those who need it most.

  • Providence physicians say getting your vaccine is the most important step you can take in the fight against COVID-19. 

  • Even when you’re vaccinated, it’s important to take steps to protect those who are not yet vaccinated or may be at higher risk in certain settings.

In the months since coronavirus (COVID-19) became the major headline across the country and the globe, there’s one phrase that keeps appearing across articles and social media channels: We need to “flatten the curve.”

Experts say this process can not only help improve our country’s response to the pandemic, it can also save lives.  

What does “flatten the curve” mean?

The goal of flattening the curve is to slow down COVID-19 infections, rather than having the cases all peak at once.

This graphic adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visualizes the idea of slowing the spread or flattening the curve of a pandemic. The dark purple curve shows a disease that is spreading fast, while the striped curve shows one spreading slowly.

Source: Qualls N, Levitt A, Kanade N, et al. Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza — United States, 2017. MMWR Recomm Rep 2017;66(No. RR-1):1–34. DOI: icon.

Dr. Qualls, who was involved in creating the original pandemic graph illustrated above, notes that it is “Important to remember that COVID-19 epidemic control measures may only delay cases, not prevent. However, this helps limit surge and gives hospitals time to prepare and manage.”

Why is it important to flatten the curve?

Slowing down the rate of COVID-19 infections, or flattening the curve, gives hospitals, doctors, schools and other resources time to respond to the outbreak. It also gives researchers more time to develop treatments and vaccines.

Having more people sick at one time puts more strain on our health care system. Stretching these resources out over time, rather than using them all up at once, means we can treat more people and ultimately save lives.

What can I do to help flatten the curve?

Although it’s been a while since the outbreak of COVID-19, we are still learning how it affects people differently, the long-term health consequences, and how it is mutating into variants. 

We do know that COVID-19 is spread mainly from person to person. That is, when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  Learn more from the CDC.

The key goal in flattening the curve is to slow the spread of disease, which means taking steps to protect yourself and people in your community from becoming infected.

Slowing down infection rates

Nearly 50 percent of all Americans have been fully vaccinated, but as vaccination rates slow in certain parts of the country, doctors continue to urge those who are eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Thus far, the three vaccines in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) have been very effective at preventing COVID-19, especially severe illness and death. 

If you have not received your vaccine yet, check out your options on our COVID-19 vaccine resource page.

Continue protecting yourself and others

With variants of the virus spreading in different parts of the world and certain age groups and vulnerable populations not yet vaccinated, in many scenarios it is still a good idea to continue wearing a mask and social distancing. 

The CDC has all the latest information and guidance for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people on its website

Other ways you can do your part

  • Get your vaccine!
  • Social distance when and where appropriate or required by law
  • Wear your mask when and where appropriate, required by law, or in the presence of those who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water and use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Cover your face when you cough or sneeze
  • Stay home if you feel sick
  • Contact your doctor if you show symptoms or get a COVID test if you believe you’ve been exposed to the virus



Find a doctor

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine or symptoms of the virus, consult your doctor. You can find a primary care physician or a specialist using our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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