Fully vaccinated? Congratulations! You’ve taken an important step toward protecting yourself—and others—from COVID-19.
Reminder: You’re considered “fully vaccinated” once it’s been two weeks since your second dose in a two-dose series (like the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines), or two weeks since you received a single-dose vaccine (such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Once you reach that point, your body has had enough time to build up enough infection-fighting antibodies to ensure a robust immune response should you come in contact with the novel coronavirus.
But before you think about throwing a party, keep in mind that COVID-19 is still spreading, and the majority of Americans haven’t been vaccinated yet. That means it’s important to continue taking precautions—especially in public.
Wondering what you can do (and what you should still avoid) now that you’ve been vaccinated? Here’s everything you need to know.
You don’t have to wear a mask around other fully vaccinated people.
This holds true whether you’re indoors or outdoors, per the CDC. It can be hard to get your head around this after a year of wearing a mask, but experts say it’s just fine to do. “If you’re all fully vaccinated, we think that you’re so well protected that you don’t need masks,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Just to recap, research shows that each authorized vaccine in the U.S. (from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) is extremely effective where it matters most: They all prevent critical forms of COVID-19 that can result in hospitalization or death.
The vaccines “aren’t perfect, but they’re highly effective at preventing symptomatic disease,” says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo. As a result, if you’re around other fully vaccinated people, the risk is incredibly low that any of you will get sick from each other, he notes.
You don’t need to wear a mask around small groups of unvaccinated, low-risk people—but you do still need to wear one in public.
According to the CDC, you can gather indoors—unmasked—with unvaccinated people from one other household (like visiting with relatives who all live in the same house). But there’s a major caveat: It’s important to make sure that none of the unvaccinated people are at a high risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 and that they don’t live with high-risk people, like an older adult or a person who has an underlying health condition.
“When you’re fully vaccinated, there’s very little risk that you can be a spreader of this virus,” says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That said, because the risk of passing on the virus after your immunization isn’t confirmed to be zero, you should only be unmasked around low-risk people until public health experts have enough data to say otherwise, he notes.
That’s why the CDC recommends that you continue to wear a mask in public settings (as you can’t know for sure whether each person is high or low risk), when you’re gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one household, and when you’re visiting with an unvaccinated, high-risk person. You should also still avoid large gatherings.
“Part of it has to do with the vaccines not being perfect,” Dr. Schaffner says. “When you’re out in public, there’s still that small chance you could get infected,” especially as new, highly contagious variants continue to spread.
Remember: “It’s not just about you—it’s about the people around you,” says Henry Raymond, Ph.D., associate professor and epidemiologist at the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey. “Even if you’re fully vaccinated, there’s still a small chance that you could transmit the virus to other people.”
You don’t automatically need to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19.
In most cases, if you have been fully vaccinated, the CDC says that you don’t need to stay away from others or get tested if you’ve been around someone with COVID-19. There are caveats, though. If you live in a congregate setting, like a group home, the CDC recommends staying away from others for 14 days if you have been exposed to the coronavirus.
“At their best, these vaccines are 95% effective—that’s not 100%,” Dr. Schaffner says. “It is possible, although unlikely, that you could be exposed to COVID and develop the illness.” If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, you should still quarantine and get tested for the virus, even if you are vaccinated.
It’s OK for you to travel if necessary.
The CDC explains that “people who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States” in updated guidelines released in early April. Vaccinated travelers should still wear masks at all times, avoid crowds, and regularly wash or sanitize their hands, however.
“If you’re fully vaccinated, travel poses a risk—but that risk is very low,” Dr. Russo says. His biggest concern is the possibility of picking up a coronavirus variant, like P.1 (which first emerged in Brazil) or B.1.351 (which first emerged in South Africa), since there’s less data on the vaccines’ effectiveness against these variants. Still, he says, “it seems like you could at least do domestic travel safely.”
Overall, you can do a lot once you’re fully vaccinated. In some ways, notes Dr. Adalja, “you’re getting your life back.”
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
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