After a year of uncertainty and social disruption, states have started rolling out their vaccination programs. With President Joe Biden’s announcement that we will have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May, we have reason for hope while folks are waiting to be able to access the vaccine.
We are in a race between vaccination and variant mutations. The longer it takes to get people vaccinated, the more likely mutations will emerge, as the virus rages amongst communities. Winning the race means vaccinating the overwhelming majority of the world population. So far, studies show that that the current vaccines are providing protection against the variants.
The good news is that every vaccination moves us closer as a nation to herd immunity. But in the meantime, we need to know how much it’s safe to ease up on our precautionary behaviors. This blog post will help clarify what you can and can’t do once you’re fully vaccinated.
Getting the Vaccine
Congrats, you’ve made the wise choice to trust some of the best informed virologists and medical experts in the country, also known as the Centers for Disease Control! These vaccines are our best and most effective tool to fight COVID-19 and limit the spread of the virus and its new variants.
For most vaccines, full protection comes two weeks after receiving your second dose of the vaccine. (Be sure to follow the specific instructions for the vaccine you receive.) It takes this long for your body to build the necessary protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.
Because it’s possible to become infected with the virus in the interim time between receiving the vaccine and building up immunity, you still need to practice prevention.
Once vaccinated, it’s still possible (though less likely) to catch the virus and potentially pass it to others. In the unlikely event that you are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, your symptoms will be greatly reduced. The vaccine drastically reduces your chances of becoming seriously ill, but it doesn’t totally prevent infection.
So keep washing those hands, test strategically, wear a mask, and watch for symptoms. And remember: even though the vaccine doesn’t confer complete immunity, you are far better off confronting the virus and the world once you’ve been fully vaccinated.
So what can we do?
- Gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors and maskless without physical distancing
- Avoid having to quarantine or be tested after exposure to the virus
- Gather with unvaccinated members of a single household without distancing or wearing a mask, if that household has a low risk of severe disease.
- Travel domestically without having to get tested before and after travel
What not to do
We suggest you avoid the urge to slap a “Just Vaxxed’” sticker on your sore arm, rip off your mask, and run towards the nearest crowded dance floor.
Seriously though: getting a vaccine isn’t a “get out of COVID free” card. It’s more like a bulletproof vest: you might still get hit, but you’re less likely to bite the big one in case the worst happens.
Also, we’re still a long way off from knowing exactly how effective the vaccines are against the new mutations of the virus. For now, your safest course of action after getting vaccinated is to continue practicing prevention, while respecting the reality it will take some time for the majority of the population to be vaccinated.
Even once you’re vaccinated, it’s important to avoid:
- Unmasked and undistanced gathering with high-risk populations like unvaccinated elders and others with underlying conditions that make getting COVID more serious
- Large crowds
- Gathering indoors with unvaccinated folks from multiple households
If you’re hosting a small cocktail party to celebrate with a fully vaccinated friend, congrats and enjoy! But if your unvaccinated neighbor shows up, it’s probably best to mask up and take the party outdoors. Also, having vaccination parties might be uncool, considering not everyone gets access to the vaccine at the same rate—so be discreet.
To sum up
Things are changing, yet again and hopefully for the better. Depending on your location and community, you may be seeing more and more people relax their vigilance and precautions. You might also be chuckling with angst about how some of them never followed those precautions in the first place—and for that, we feel you.
But we think it’s too early to throw our hands up and “go back to normal”—and the CDC agrees. There are benefits to relaxing some of the most restrictive social distancing measures, but now is not the time to disregard them all. In public settings, vaccinated people still need to continue to follow all public health precautions.
Ultimately, it’s a gesture of mutual respect and consideration to empathize with and protect the health of the most vulnerable in any private or public setting. We won’t weather this pandemic through science alone, but by doing our best to be respectful, considerate, and patient under the most trying of times. Even when you’re seeing the light at the tunnel, it’s important to keep up the good work until everyone has made it through to the other side.