Here's What You Can Do Once You're Fully Vaccinated for COVID-19
So...you're vaccinated. Now what?
According to the CDC, people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks or physically distance indoors or outdoors, in most circumstances.
"Being fully vaccinated means you're more protected from COVID-19, and this provides some flexibility in regard to what you can feel safe doing again," says Dr. Ashley Drews, medical director of infection prevention and control at Houston Methodist.
However, there are also some times and places you'll still need to take precautions, such as in health care settings, while traveling and while visiting with someone who is more vulnerable to getting sick. In addition, businesses and your workplace may continue to require masks and physical distancing — regardless of whether or not you’re fully vaccinated.
“You may also make the personal decision to continue to be cautious at sporting events, live concerts, shopping centers, museums, movie theaters, crowded indoor restaurants, shopping centers and bars,” adds Dr. Drews. “Breakthrough cases in individuals who are fully vaccinated are rare, but they do occur.”
When are you considered fully vaccinated?
First thing's first, being "fully vaccinated" means meeting some specific criteria.
The CDC's new post-vaccination recommendations only apply to you once two weeks have passed since receiving either:
- Your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine OR
- Your first (and only) dose of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine
"If you haven't yet received your second dose of vaccine (if applicable) or if two weeks haven't yet passed since your final dose, you're not considered fully vaccinated and should continue to practice the full preventive measures you're used to taking," says Dr. Drews.
Here's what changes once you're fully vaccinated
Once you’re fully vaccinated, most indoor and outdoor activities are considered lower risk.
In addition, you don’t need to self-quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure unless you have symptoms or live in a group home. If you are exposed to someone who has COVID-19, be sure to monitor yourself for symptoms for 14 days. Self-quarantine and get tested if you do develop symptoms.
“Of note, however, fully vaccinated individuals who are immunocompromised may need to continue to be more cautious. Work with your doctor to understand which precautions you should continue to take,” adds Dr. Drews.
Otherwise, fully vaccinated individuals can feel comfortable:
- Gathering indoors with a small group of vaccinated or unvaccinated people
- Being outdoors
- Running errands
- Dining at restaurants
- Attending a worship service
- Going to the gym or participating in exercise classes (continue to wear a mask and social distance)
- Using public transportation (continue to wear a mask and social distance)
- Resuming domestic travel (continue to wear a mask and social distance)
Keep in mind, while you can feel safer in these situations, you’ll still need to follow any masking or social distancing guidelines being enforced by establishments or businesses.
“As you resume activities, it’s best to use your judgment when you are in crowds, with people who may be vulnerable or if you have underlying health issues,” adds Dr. Drews. “When in doubt, there’s no harm in wearing a mask and keeping your distance.”
Here's what doesn't change even though you're vaccinated
Even once you're fully vaccinated, wearing a mask and social distancing remain important while:
- In a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office
- Visiting with someone who is high-risk
- Traveling or using public transportation
“It also remains important to monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms, especially if you're exposed to someone with a confirmed case. While you're now more protected from this virus, we're still learning just how effective these vaccines are at reducing transmission and against each of the COVID-19 variants currently circulating, as well as how effective they are at protecting people with weakened immune systems,” explains Dr. Drews.
What if you’re fully vaccinated but your kids aren’t?
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is now available to adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15, but families with children younger than 12 and/or kids who aren’t quite fully vaccinated yet may be looking for advice on what’s considered safe.
If your teen isn’t quite fully vaccinated yet (in between his or her first and second dose or still waiting for two weeks to pass since receiving the final dose), there may be value in staying cautious for just a few more weeks.
“Even though it’s hard to continue postponing activities, families who are close to the finish line of being fully vaccinated may want to just wait these last few weeks out as safely as they can — limiting time in indoor public spaces, avoiding large groups, dining outdoors and delaying travel,” says Dr. Drews.
Families with kids under the age of 12 may have some harder decision to make, however. It will likely be another few months before COVID-19 vaccines are made available to younger children — which means “sticking it out” could last a while.
“It’s hard to keep your children at home, isolated from social activities. We know that children are generally less likely to get very sick from COVID-19, but they’re not immune to it. Parents with unvaccinated children will need to make individualized choices regarding the family’s comfort level resuming activities,” says Dr. Drews.