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Fully vaccinated against COVID-19? So, what can you safely do?
- By Amy C. Sherman, MD, Contributor
Editor’s note: In the US, advice on mask-wearing and physical distancing continues to evolve. Fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or stay six feet away from others outdoors and in many –– but not all –– indoor settings, according to the CDC. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, continue following federal, state, tribal, and local laws, and workplace or business requirements. For details, see this CDC web page .
Congrats on getting your COVID-19 vaccine! You qualify as fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or two weeks after your single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Maybe you're wondering what you can safely do now that you're fully vaccinated. As an infectious disease specialist, I've provided answers to some common questions. Please keep in mind that information about COVID-19 and vaccines is evolving, and recommendations may change as we learn more.
Can I gather with people outside my household who also are fully vaccinated?
Yes, if you and your friends or family are fully vaccinated, gathering in small groups without masks is considered low-risk. Although it's possible that people who are fully vaccinated could still spread the virus, the vaccines are excellent at protecting you from severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19.
Hopefully, we can start to view COVID-19 like influenza: the flu vaccine reduces flu severity and decreases your chances of going to the hospital for pneumonia, but does not completely eliminate the virus.
Regardless of your vaccination status, if you experience COVID-19 symptoms, you should avoid close interactions with others. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days before a planned visit, you should refrain from visiting others.
Can I see family and friends who don't yet have the vaccine, and socialize without my mask if I am fully vaccinated?
The risk that you'll develop COVID-19 is low if you are vaccinated and attend a gathering indoors with others who are not vaccinated. However, please be aware that you can potentially spread the virus to others. Vaccination does not completely shield you from becoming infected with the virus; it just lessens symptoms and severity of disease. So, it's possible that you could have no symptoms or only very mild symptoms, and still pass the virus to your family and friends who are not yet vaccinated.
The new recommendations below are based on the vaccination status of yourself and your family members or friends. As we learn more, these recommendations may change.
If you are fully vaccinated and visiting fully vaccinated family or friends:
- Indoor visits without masks are okay and likely low-risk.
If you are fully vaccinated and visiting healthy but not yet vaccinated people ages 64 or younger living in a single household:
- Indoor visits without masks are okay and likely low-risk. Although spreading the virus is still possible, the risk of healthy - and particularly younger - individuals developing severe COVID-19 is low.
- Be aware that if older people do get COVID-19, their risk for hospitalization and death is much higher than the risk for younger people. A 60-year-old has a higher risk than a 50-year-old, and a 50-year-old is at higher risk than a 40-year-old. Learn more on this CDC page explaining risks by age group.
If you are fully vaccinated and visiting a single household of family or friends who are not yet vaccinated, and are at risk for severe COVID-19 due to age (65 or older) or health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell disease, or other specific conditions:
- All of you should wear well-fitted masks and stay six feet away from each other when indoors. If possible, hold the visit outdoors or in a well-ventilated space to reduce risk.
Mixing two or more households that have people who aren't yet vaccinated raises the risk for getting the virus that causes COVID-19 for anyone who isn't vaccinated.
Generally, the more closely people interact and the longer they spend with others, the higher the risk of getting or spreading the virus, according to the CDC.
When possible, everyone gathering for a visit can lower risk further by avoiding contact with people outside their household for 14 days before a visit, and/or by getting tested for the virus.
What if my partner or people in my household aren't vaccinated?
You can do your part to help keep your partner or household members who have not yet been vaccinated safe. Although it may not be feasible to wear a mask or stay at a distance within the house, you can maintain these strict measures outside of the home. This will help to reduce your chance of exposure to the virus, and thus decrease the risk of passing the virus to your partner or household members. Your unvaccinated partner or housemates should abide by the same guidelines: wear a well-fitted mask, wash hands frequently, maintain physical distance, and avoid crowds in places outside of the home.
Can I travel for leisure or pleasure?
At this time you should avoid unnecessary travel, and only visit people nearby because cases of COVID-19 are still high. Traveling by air, bus, or train puts you in contact with many people and increases risk of transmission. The vaccines do not offer 100% protection. We must maintain caution, especially as we learn more about variants of concern and how much the vaccine protects against these strains.
And as stated before, you also can put others at risk and spread the virus, even if you are protected yourself.
What precautions should I continue taking? Is it true that people need to continue wearing masks in public?
Many more people need to be vaccinated before we achieve sufficient community immunity. Until that happens, you still can pass the virus to others, even if you are fully vaccinated. Therefore, to keep others safe and reduce the overall spread of the virus, you can do your part by wearing a well-fitted mask in public spaces, maintaining physical distance, washing hands frequently, and avoiding large crowds.
When can I go to a restaurant, concert, or sports event?
As noted, the larger the event or gathering, the more risk you take in exposing yourself to the virus and/or spreading the virus to others. Indoor dining at restaurants is lower-risk for vaccinated individuals, compared with attending a large indoor concert. Regardless of risk level, in any public setting, you can do your part by wearing a well-fitted mask, observing distancing, washing your hands, and avoiding crowds.
About the Author
Amy C. Sherman, MD, Contributor
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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Any given year, we’ll collectively come down with one billion colds and up to 45 million cases of flu, while the number of new cases of COVID-19 keeps rising. In this guide, you will learn how to avoid getting any of these three viral infections, and, if you do get sick, what you can do to feel better. You’ll also learn when your condition is serious enough to call a doctor. The report also provides specific information about high-risk groups for whom COVID and the flu can be very serious.
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