“I’m vaccinated. Now what?”

by Calvin Thomas Williams, Jr., MD/PhD, Chief of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital
March 26, 2021

After a long year of adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s exciting to think about what it could look like to resume normal life. But while the vaccine offers hope of a future without quarantine or face masks, it’s not quite time to throw away the health precautions. Now, more than ever, we need to remain vigilant and patient as the vaccine becomes more widely available and we can collect more data.

In the meantime, if you’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine, you may have questions about how life can change for you. If you’re wondering, “I’m vaccinated. Now what?”, read on for answers to commonly asked questions about what’s next.

“I got the #COVID19 vaccine. Now what?” Infectious disease expert Dr. Williams answers commonly asked questions about what’s next after #vaccination: https://bit.ly/3fuOPhp.

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When does immunity set in?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released updates that you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second shot in the two-dose series of the COVID-19 vaccine. If you get the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, you are also fully vaccinated two weeks after the shot. The CDC recently added that those who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus within three months and do not develop symptoms.

Can I ditch the face mask?

In general, it’s too early to stop wearing a face mask. Once you’ve been fully vaccinated, you will have up to 95 percent protection from developing symptoms, and almost 100 percent protection from being admitted to the hospital or dying from COVID-19, should you become infected (depending on the manufacturer of the vaccine you receive). So while the vaccine is highly effective, there’s still a chance that you could catch the virus. And, we’re still learning important information about the vaccine, like how long immunity will last and whether or not we can pass the virus to others even after we’ve developed immunity. Right now, we believe it’s still possible to be vaccinated but carry the virus. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you may still be able to transmit COVID-19 to someone else who isn’t vaccinated, although the chances are fewer than if you weren’t vaccinated.

In addition, new variants of COVID-19 are developing across the globe in the same way other viruses adapt and change. We are unable to predict how well the current vaccines will fully protect against new variations of COVID-19.

As a result, properly wearing a face mask is still one of the best ways you can protect yourself and those around you until we know more about the duration and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. I say “properly” because a face mask only protects you to the degree which you wear it. More recently, the CDC has recommended wearing a second well-fitted cloth face mask over a surgical mask to reduce the amount of air that leaks around the mask, which may offer additional protection.

Is it safe to freely hang out with friends and family?

The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors. Since we don’t yet know how much immunity from vaccination affects transmission of COVID-19 to others, there is still risk involved with physical touch, especially if one of the individuals you want to spend time with is not vaccinated.

At the same time, complete isolation isn’t good for anyone, and it’s unreasonable to avoid all contact with friends and family. Ultimately, you have to weigh the risks and benefits of gathering, taking into consideration the following:

  • Is everyone in the group vaccinated?
  • Are the individuals attending at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19?
  • Will we be gathering indoors or outdoors?
  • How big is the space where we will be gathering?
  • What is the ventilation like if the space is indoors?
  • How many people will be in attendance?
  • To what degree will people be practicing safety precautions, such as wearing face masks and maintaining six feet of space?
  • What will we be doing together?

The CDC recently announced that if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you may gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks. Additionally, you can also gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, as long as they are not at an increased risk of developing COVID-19 complications.

Therefore, if everyone in the group is vaccinated, then yes, you can safely gather. And, you may gather with one other household, even if they’re not all vaccinated yet. However, be aware that the risks of transmitting COVID-19 increase as the number of unvaccinated people who are gathering increases, so you should continue taking precautions if there are unvaccinated people from more than one other household in attendance. You should also take extra caution when meeting with someone who’s at an increased risk of developing complications from COVID-19, such as an elderly family member or someone undergoing cancer treatment.

Can I travel wherever I want?

Now is still not a great time to travel domestically or internationally, even if you’re fully vaccinated. As more variants of COVID-19 emerge around the world, it’s important to remain cautious for your safety and the safety of others. If you need to travel for business or personal reasons, continue taking safety precautions to minimize your risk of exposure or spreading the virus to others.

Can I start frequenting indoor restaurants, sporting events, and other large gatherings?

After you’ve been fully vaccinated, your personal risk of having a negative outcome if you get infected with COVID-19 is extraordinarily low. However, you can still contract the virus, and potentially spread it to other people who have not yet been vaccinated. For now, it’s probably best to continue avoiding medium and large crowds, especially if the venue is indoors and involves eating or drinking. It’s impossible to wear a mask while eating dinner, and it’s hard to know how good the ventilation is inside different environments, even if your seat is six feet from other tables or seats.

Outdoor concerts or sporting events, for example, would be far safer. As always, you have to weigh the risks to yourself and others with the benefits when deciding what activities you will engage in after you’ve been vaccinated. You should continue practicing the recommended COVID-19 prevention measures, which include proper mask wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene to help keep your risk as low as possible.

We’re not in the clear yet, but there is hope ahead.

Getting vaccinated is a safe and necessary step towards bringing this pandemic to an end in a way that minimizes the heavy burden the COVID-19 pandemic has on families and communities all over the world. The vaccine offers the safest path towards the day when the risks associated with many routine activities are low and we can resume life as we did before the pandemic. Until then, let’s continue caring for ourselves and one another by following public health guidelines and encouraging our friends and family to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

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Category: COVID-19, Health Innovation     Tags: covid-19covid-19 safetycovid-19 vaccine