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Two women have a talk in the park while wearing masks and social distancing
Two women have a talk in the park while wearing masks and social distancing
Two women have a talk in the park while wearing masks and social distancing

What's Safe After Your COVID-19 Vaccine?

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for fully vaccinated people that include some encouraging steps forward. If you have finished your COVID-19 vaccines, what’s safe to do?

Namandje Bumpus, Ph.D., an expert in pharmacology and molecular science, reviews these updates from the CDC and talks about what the future may hold for you, your family and our communities.

What are the guidelines from the CDC?

The CDC has updated its recommendations on resuming some activities once you have completed your COVID-19 vaccines. Here are some highlights of what fully vaccinated people may do now:

  • In a home or personal setting, gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or staying at least 6 feet apart (physical distancing)
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from one household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19, including healthy children
  • Resume outdoor get-togethers and activities without masks as long as physical distancing is maintained (Masks should be worn in crowded settings and venues)

Note: These guidelines apply to personal or home settings. Masks must still be worn in public, in workplaces and when in medium-sized or large gatherings.

When am I considered “fully vaccinated”?

According to CDC guidelines, you are fully vaccinated when it has been:

  • Two weeks after your second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
  • Two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, data from clinical trials are clear that there is further improvement four weeks after the single-shot vaccine, especially for preventing severe COVID-19 or having asymptomatic infection. For this reason, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends four weeks after the single-dose vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated.

If you don’t meet these requirements, you are not fully vaccinated.

What does this mean for my workplace?

The new CDC guidelines apply to people and families at home. The CDC recommends that you follow your workplace’s COVID-19 safety precautions, which might be different.

Can I get together with other people if I’m fully vaccinated for COVID-19?

Though the new guidelines say that fully vaccinated people can socialize, visiting with unvaccinated people can be tricky.

Bumpus says a simple rule of thumb can work for planning: “Unvaccinated guests should be from one household only.” She stresses that indoor gatherings, even small ones, with unvaccinated people from multiple households call for the same precautions you would take in public: wearing masks and physical distancing.

“Even among a few people, the virus can spread, and we strongly recommend against people from multiple households getting together without these precautions if some are unvaccinated.”

Can I hug my grandchildren?

Older adults are especially eager to interact with children in their families after more than a year of being apart. Bumpus says that once grandparents are fully vaccinated, they can hug unvaccinated grandkids when those children are all living in one household and are not at high risk for severe disease (for example, immunocompromised kids).

(Some COVID-19 vaccine studies now include young participants. Once the data show that the vaccines are safe for children under age 16, they will be eligible for vaccination.)

“As far as children’s role in catching or transmitting COVID-19, we are still learning and evaluating data,” Bumpus says. “While data show that kids are less likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19 compared with adults, some kids, especially those with certain health conditions, are still at risk.”

Can we get together in person with adults from one other household?

Bumpus suggests looking at each situation individually. “With children, relatives and friends, open and honest discussions are necessary, even more than we are used to,” she says.

“Even if you have been fully vaccinated, when you are deciding about spending time in close proximity with older people and those with health problems, ask questions about vaccination and risk, and invite honest answers. Don’t assume that people are safe.”

Why do I still need to wear a mask and practice physical distancing in public if I’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine?

Until enough people have been vaccinated, public COVID-19 precautions are still important, even for fully vaccinated people. Although mask-wearing is now optional for fully vaccinated people who are outdoors and maintaining physical distancing, masks and physical distancing should be the rule at schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and other places where people gather, as well as public transportation, Bumpus notes.

“People who have been fully vaccinated can feel safer when they are out among other people,” says Bumpus, “but we need to stay diligent about wearing face masks and practicing physical distancing.”

The reason? The coronavirus vaccines can prevent you from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. But even if you have been vaccinated you might still be able to pick up the coronavirus, harbor it in your body without any symptoms (asymptomatic infection) and pass it to another person. Until more is known about how likely a vaccinated person is to spread the coronavirus to others, precautions are essential.

Answers are definitely on the way: Bumpus says current studies are monitoring vaccinated people and testing them to see if they are less likely to infect others.

In the meantime, wearing your mask and maintaining physical distancing from others when you are in public places protect you from possibly infecting those who have not yet received their vaccines.

 “Although every day, more people receive COVID-19 vaccines, many others have not yet been able to get them. Access to the vaccinations is still an issue,” Bumpus says. Once a large enough majority of people is vaccinated, it still might take a while before life returns to a pre-pandemic level of ease and freedom.”

Coronavirus Variants: Will they delay a return to normal?

“We might need to maintain some safeguards for a while as we watch what happens with any currently circulating coronavirus variants,” she 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. Even if a vaccinated person catches a variant, they are likely to get a less serious case of COVID-19.

She adds that coronavirus vaccines protect not only individuals, but also the community at large. She explains: “The more people who are vaccinated for the coronavirus, the fewer infections will happen, and fewer infections mean fewer chances for the coronavirus to mutate.”

“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. 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,” she says.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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Updated May 6, 2021