In a nutshell, Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's important to understand that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 does not mean that you have a free pass to ignore all of the public health measures and COVID-19 precautions we've been practicing throughout the pandemic. "You may not be totally protected," he says, even after vaccination, and could possibly transmit the virus to others.
Dr. Kim Ann Dang, a board-certified family medicine doctor affiliated with SharpCare Medical Group, agrees. Here, she answers specific questions about what activities are safe after receiving your COVID-19 vaccine.
Can I stop wearing a face mask?
Vaccinated members of the community are encouraged to continue wearing face masks in public spaces. Vaccines work with your immune system to be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed, and 2 weeks after full vaccination, you are considered essentially immune to COVID-19.
However, while clinical trials showed that the vaccines protect you against COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus - their efficacy is not 100%. And there is still much to be learned about the vaccines, such as:
- How long immunity lasts after vaccination
- Whether some vaccinated people may be infected with the coronavirus, but not have COVID-19 symptoms
- Whether some vaccinated people can carry and transmit the virus to other people
Right now, there is not enough information for a clear answer. Until more time passes and more is learned, we can't clearly say if the COVID-19 vaccines will have any effect on preventing transmission. However, in acknowledgment of the hope to return to a more familiar family life, we can say the risk after vaccination is reduced.
Assuming that you have produced an immune response 2 weeks or more after receiving your second dose of the vaccine, it should be relatively safer for you to hug your unvaccinated loved ones. But make sure you wear a mask and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol before getting close. The risk would be further lowered if all involved have been vaccinated, though not completely risk-free.
Can I socialize with others?
You are encouraged to continue to observe relevant COVID-19 precautions and follow state guidance for gatherings. In California, gatherings that include more than 3 households are prohibited, and all gatherings must be held outdoors.
While the risk is lowered with vaccination, you should reflect on your personal risk factors, such as age and chronic medical conditions, and the risk factors of the people you spend time with, especially those not yet vaccinated.
There are a number of precautions that people can take to lower the risk of transmission:
- Host gatherings outdoors.
- Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing of 6 feet between families.
- If planning activities, consider those where social distancing can be maintained, such as sidewalk chalk art or tossing a Frisbee.
- When guests arrive, minimize gestures that promote close contact, such as shaking hands and embracing, and greet them verbally from a safe distance instead.
In San Diego, restaurants are currently only open for outdoor service. Dining out with members of your household after vaccination is considered relatively safe, as long as you choose a restaurant that is following COVID-19 guidelines, such as spacing tables and ensuring that employees wear face coverings, wash their hands frequently and clean surfaces thoroughly. You should also wear a mask when communicating with restaurant staff or moving about the restaurant, such as entering, exiting and when walking to and from restrooms.
While state gathering guidelines allow you to gather with up to 2 other households, dining at a restaurant with people from other households has greater risk than gathering and dining at alternative locations, such as a backyard or park, where spacing of 6 feet between households is possible.
Can I travel?
While local public health authorities establish guidelines for each community, nonessential travel is still generally discouraged. The vaccine dramatically reduces your risk of getting COVID, but it does not completely reduce the risk. With emerging, more contagious strains of COVID-19 around the globe, it is prudent to be cautious.
If you must travel, continue to follow recommended precautions, including social distancing when possible and wearing a mask - which is required on all forms of public transportation and in airports and transit stations.
Can I care for someone with COVID-19?
While getting the COVID-19 vaccine may help keep caregivers from getting seriously ill, it might still be possible to be infected when exposed to the virus. If you are caring for someone with COVID-19 at home, you should do what you can to protect yourself and others by taking simple preventive measures to minimize transmission of the disease. These include limiting contact, eating in separate areas, avoiding sharing personal items, wearing a mask and gloves, frequently washing hands, and self-monitoring for signs and symptoms of infection.
Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp HealthCare.