You got the call or online confirmation, you showed up for your appointment or appointments and now, you’re fully vaccinated.
That is truly wonderful.But before you start kissing babies, hugging strangers or throwing all of your masks away, we’re here to tell you that you still need to be careful since there are still a lot of unknowns swirling around us. We’re not trying to kill your dream of returning to a kind of normal life. Believe us, everyone deserves some normalcy after a challenging 2020. But we do want you to protect yourself and those around you who are still waiting for their chance to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
So what can you do once you’re considered “fully vaccinated?” Infectious disease specialist, Kristin Englund, MD, offers some words of hope and tips for staying safe as you continue to navigate through life during a pandemic.
What does “fully vaccinated” mean
According to the CDC, you’re not considered fully vaccinated until it’s been at least two weeks since your second dose of a two-dose series like Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine, or it’s been two weeks since you received a single-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson’s.
The CDC stresses that if it’s been less than two weeks since you received a single-dose vaccine or you haven’t received your second dose in the series, you are NOT fully protected. That means you still need to take all of the necessary precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands and avoiding large crowds.
So, what can fully vaccinated people do?
Dr. Englund says there are benefits to getting fully vaccinated. “First, you’re not going to get sick, hopefully.” And second, there will likely be some opportunities to see people who you haven’t seen in awhile, she says.
Fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks around each other
Dr. Englund says that if you and a friend or a small group of friends have all been vaccinated, you don’t have to wear masks. But again, you all have to be fully, not partially vaccinated.
“If you and one other person have been fully vaccinated or a small group has been, you don’t have to wear masks anymore when you’re indoors,” she says. “That’s going to lead to a lot more freedom and a lot more ability to see people smile — and we’ve all been missing that. But again, let’s keep in mind that the whole group has to be fully vaccinated, and it’s been at least two weeks since everyone’s last vaccine,” says Dr. Englund.
Why two weeks?
When you get the vaccine, it enters your body and helps your immune system learn how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. You’re not getting the live virus when you’re vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for emergency use simply teach our bodies to protect us from future infection.
It can take about two weeks after vaccination for your body to build up immunity against the virus that causes COVID-19. Because of this, it’s possible to contract COVID-19 before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine didn’t have enough time to work as intended.
You don’t have to quarantine unless…
If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 unless you start experiencing symptoms. If you start experiencing symptoms, this could mean that the vaccine is not effective or you were exposed to a variant.
Dr. Englund explains.
“Another break for those of us who’ve been fully vaccinated, and yet another reason to get fully vaccinated, is that if you do happen to get exposed to someone who has COVID-19, you don’t have to quarantine anymore. And if you don’t have symptoms, you can certainly go about your daily business,” she says.
She says if you do start to have symptoms, that may mean the vaccine was not fully effective or you might have been exposed to a variant. “But if you’re not having any symptoms, you can still go out and do your daily work within the community. You can also feel confident that you don’t have to quarantine.”
You can see your grandkids
Vaccinated grandparents everywhere can rejoice because they no longer have to deal with virtual playdates or drive-by visits. Dr. Englund says they can now spoil their grandbabies in person, but there are some stipulations.
“Let’s say you’re a grandparent and you want to see your grandchild. Your grandchild most likely hasn’t been vaccinated yet. But as long as you’re fully vaccinated and you’re keeping your interactions together limited to a small group that’s from the same household, you can now see your grandchild without having to wear a mask.”
You shouldn’t throw your masks away and act like things are back to normal
As mentioned earlier, it takes two weeks to build up resistance after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. To preserve the process, keep wearing your mask. Dr. Englund also stresses that even though you’re fully vaccinated, you’re not superhuman. You still need to wear your mask to protect yourself from the many unknowns.
“When you’re going out into public, just because you’re fully vaccinated doesn’t mean that you’re completely safe. You’re going to be interacting with a lot of different people at grocery stores, sporting events and in other public spaces. So, you’ll absolutely need to continue to wear your masks in those settings.”
Keep wearing your masks in healthcare settings
The guidelines have pretty much remained in place if you’re going out into public. They’re the same for healthcare settings, too.
Dr. Englund says it’s important to continue to wear our masks and face shields. “It’s crucial, especially when we don’t know if people are fully vaccinated. And as you enter a hospital or healthcare provider’s office, you don’t know the health status of the person who might be walking or sitting next to you. That person could be at high risk for getting COVID-19. So, we certainly don’t want to put people in healthcare settings at risk.”
And don’t start collecting frequent flyer miles
A lot of people might think that being vaccinated means they’re free to travel the country or the world again. But you might want to pump the brakes for now.
Dr. Englund says loosening the recommendations is intended for small groups that are vaccinated and familiar with each other, not large groups of people who aren’t vaccinated or taking the proper precautions in public.
“One question that we’re going to hear is whether people can start to travel more. What we need to understand now is this is only the beginning when it comes to loosening the requirements and some of the recommendations,” she says.
We don’t have updated guidelines for safe travel at this moment so stay tuned. We’re going to make sure that we get information out from the CDC as soon as we can, but we also want to make sure that we’re not giving out advice that isn’t safe — or safe yet.
“As far as travel goes, I recommend holding off on that for now. Let’s enjoy the things that we can do and enjoy those small gatherings. Hopefully, we can look forward to traveling in the near future.”
This sliver of normalcy doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is no longer a concern
Dr. Englund knows this latest news is very encouraging. However, she emphasizes that we shouldn’t go back to our old ways if we want to continue to keep ourselves and those around us safe.
“Let’s be careful. Let’s follow these guidelines because otherwise, if we’re taking our masks off inappropriately, we’re going to start to see the numbers rise and all of the things that we have been given the freedom to do right now are going to have to go away. Let’s follow the guidelines — make sure that you’re doing things appropriately when you’re out in public. But really, let’s start to enjoy the time that we can now have with our close friends and loved ones if we’re fully vaccinated.”