Editor’s note: After this story was published, the CDC changed its guidance to say that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most situations.
If you have received a COVID-19 vaccine, you may be wondering when you can safely hug your loved ones, hang out with friends, and go to sporting events or concerts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued guidelines on what you should (and should not) do if you’ve been fully vaccinated.
To find out more, we talked to Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention. Here are five things we learned.
1. It takes two weeks to be considered fully vaccinated.
You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine) or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).
If it has been less than two weeks since your vaccine, or if you still need to get your second dose, you are not fully protected.
2. If you are fully vaccinated, it’s OK to visit with loved ones at home without a mask.
Once fully vaccinated, you can do the following in a private setting, such as your home:
- Visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks.
- Visit with non-vaccinated people from one other household without wearing masks as long as they are considered at low risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“The CDC is stating that the risk is low enough that they can encourage people who are all fully vaccinated to get together in small groups,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.
But do not get together with unvaccinated people from more than one other household.
“Two households with unvaccinated individuals getting together creates more of a pathway for transmission between those unvaccinated individuals,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.
Continue to limit contact with others and always wear a mask when visiting someone who is not vaccinated and considered high-risk for complications from COVID-19. Adults over the age of 65 and anyone who has obesity or another serious chronic medical condition, including high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, are considered high-risk.
3. Children can be around fully vaccinated adults.
One of the most cited difficulties of the COVID-19 vaccine is the separation between grandparents and their beloved grandchildren. The isolation has been hard for both parties.
Although clinical trials are now underway, vaccines for children under 16 are not yet available. However, because children are not at high risk for COVID-19 and much less likely to fall ill, especially seriously ill, healthcare experts say it is OK for children to be around fully vaccinated adults, such as their grandparents.
“Based on the data, somebody who is in the 85-plus age group is 80 times more likely than somebody who’s 5 to 17 years old to be hospitalized for COVID-19,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “Because children are much less likely to develop severe infection or be hospitalized, their risk can be seen as very similar to a vaccinated grandparent.”
4. Avoid large gatherings and follow safety guidelines in public.
Until everyone can get a shot, it is still important to avoid medium to large gatherings and to follow safety guidelines in public. This means you should continue to wear masks consistently in all settings and stay physically distanced, especially when not able to wear a mask (e.g., eating and drinking).
“It’s certainly safer to continue to wear masks,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “And that’s why the guidance still says that those protective measures should be followed. If we turn the dial too fast, we’ll see that result in an increased number of cases. We want to be very cautious that we’re not seeing an increased surge in the communities, because if we do, the virus will be so prevalent that it will find the people who don’t experience full protection from their vaccine.”
5. Watch out for symptoms of COVID-19.
You do not need to quarantine if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 as long as you are within three months of being fully vaccinated.
However, you will need to be on the lookout for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you have been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, get tested and stay away from others, including in your home.
While the COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, they are not 100 percent effective. It is possible to get COVID-19 after you’ve been vaccinated, though you’re extremely unlikely to have serious illness.
“Even a 95 percent effective vaccine means not everyone will be protected,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “The masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene and surface disinfection are all great prevention strategies, and they will work for anything that comes our way, including variants. We haven’t had a flu season or other respiratory viruses this season because of it. Those easy strategies still work.”
Visit yourshot.org for the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccines.