What's Safe After Your COVID-19 Vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and recommends wearing face masks, both for those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not fully vaccinated.
The CDC also recommends that masks and physical distancing be required at doctor’s offices, hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Johns Hopkins Medicine’s current safety guidelines require everyone to wear masks inside all of our facilities.
Namandje Bumpus, Ph.D., an expert in pharmacology and molecular science, answers your questions.
When am I considered “fully vaccinated”?
According to CDC guidelines, you are fully vaccinated:
- Two weeks after your second dose in a two-dose series of vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna.
- Two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, data from clinical trials is clear that there is further improvement four weeks after the single-shot vaccine, especially in preventing severe COVID-19 and having asymptomatic infection. For this reason, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends that four weeks after the single-dose vaccine be considered full vaccination.
If I’m fully vaccinated, am I protected if I’m exposed to someone who has COVID-19?
The vaccine protects you from the most severe illness and death from COVID-19, but you can still catch the virus and transmit it to others. “You should get tested three to five days after that exposure,” Bumpus says. “While you are awaiting test results, and after if the test is positive for coronavirus infection, isolate yourself from others as much as possible and wear a mask, even indoors at home, if you have unvaccinated children or other vulnerable household members.
Does being fully vaccinated protect me from coronavirus variants?
“We need to maintain safeguards for a while as we watch what happens with the currently circulating coronavirus variants,” Bumpus says. “We need to take the time to get the facts and figure out each step at a time. A measured approach is essential.”
So far, Bumpus explains, the COVID-19 vaccines offer at least some protection from the circulating coronavirus variants, including the highly contagious delta variant. If a vaccinated person catches a variant, the vaccine is likely to protect him or her from a serious case of COVID-19.
She adds that COVID-19 vaccines protect not only individuals but also the community. “The more people who are vaccinated for [COVID-19], the fewer infections will happen, and fewer infections mean fewer chances for the coronavirus to mutate,” Bumpus says.
“I think the biggest issue right now in addressing the pandemic is the importance of vaccination in limiting the number and prevalence of infections and the emergence of new variants,” she says. “A great thing is that these vaccines are nimble — we can modify them [to accommodate mutations]. Even though these variants are not fully understood, we have science on our side in addressing them.”
Is it safe to get together indoors with other fully vaccinated people?
Because the delta variant is so contagious and breakthrough infections can occur in fully vaccinated people, Bumpus notes that safety precautions have shifted in the last few months.
All three of the COVID-19 vaccines that are authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration offer protection from severe COVID-19 illness, but delta coronavirus infections are still possible, she says. “Even though it looked like precautions were easing earlier this summer, new data show that we need to continue wearing masks when we’re with other people indoors,” Bumpus says. It’s also important to avoid large crowds, whether indoor or outdoor, especially if some of the people are not wearing masks.
For gatherings in your home when everyone in your household is fully vaccinated, Bumpus says the smaller the group, the better.
“The ‘one-other-household’ rule is still a good guideline if you’re getting together with other people indoors,” she says. The risk goes up when people from multiple households are included on the guest list, she explains. “Two or three couples, [with] everyone … fully vaccinated, is safer than larger groups.”
Bumpus emphasizes that outdoor gatherings are still regarded as safer than indoor ones, and being outside is still preferable for unvaccinated children’s play dates. “As long as the weather is nice in your location, gathering outdoors is always a safer option,” she says.
Indoor gatherings in public places such as bars or restaurants, she says, is a greater concern. “Wearing a face mask in indoor public places is very important, even for those who are fully vaccinated,” Bumpus says.
How to Keep Up with Safety Precaution Changes
Bumpus acknowledges that trying to stay safe is stressful when unanticipated issues such as coronavirus variants keep changing the guidelines.
“It's scary,” she says. “We got relaxed over the summer and now concern is back up. Up and down is difficult.” Trying to stay informed when precautions shift rapidly can cause burnout and pandemic fatigue.
It helps to understand how the pandemic is affecting your location. Bumpus recommends checking out the CDC’s coronavirus data tracking maps to see what’s going on in your town or county, including whether transmission levels are low, medium or high. “But,” she says, “keep in mind that those data reflect the previous week, and that a location can change rapidly based on people’s vaccination, mask-wearing and physical distancing behaviors.”
In all, Bumpus recommends staying encouraged. “We’re learning day by day,” she says. “With everything that we now understand about this virus, we are making headway in how to stay safer, and we should focus on the good things we can do this year that we couldn’t do last year. We are very confident that being fully vaccinated and being outside make activities much safer. We should feel heartened and strive to keep ourselves and others safe.”
Get information and updates from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Updated August 30, 2021