However, experts are clear: don’t skip the second shot.
While the protection offered after just 1 dose is substantial, the vaccines are most effective when both doses are received as recommended. The study, performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), included front-line workers who have an increased risk of exposure due to their professions. It found the vaccines’ effectiveness increased to 90% after 2 or more weeks from when the second dose was received.
The importance of that second shot
This increase in efficacy is because the second dose significantly boosts the level of antibodies and T-cells the body produces to fight the virus. What’s more, while additional studies have shown that the full dose of the vaccines provides protection for at least 6 months — a time frame that will likely increase as the vaccines are in use longer — it is unknown how long protection is provided from just 1 dose of the 2-dose vaccines.
“We have been concerned, and still are, that when you look at the level of protection after 1 dose, you can say it’s 80%, but it is somewhat of a tenuous 80%,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “When you just leave it at 1 dose, the question is: How long does it last?”
Additionally, to reach optimal effectiveness, the CDC reports the vaccine doses should be received within the recommended intervals. For the Pfizer vaccine, the interval between doses is 21 days, and the Moderna vaccine calls for a 28-day interval between the first and second dose. However, up to 42 days between doses for both vaccines is permissible when a delay is unavoidable.
First-dose side effects no excuse to skip second
While some may be hesitant to go back for their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if they experienced side effects after the first, the CDC says that is no excuse. People should get the second dose even if they had side effects after the first dose, unless otherwise advised by their doctor.
Possible vaccine side effects, which may include soreness at the injection site and mild flu-like symptoms, can be uncomfortable but should go away within 1 to 3 days. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin, taken after vaccination can help relieve any pain and discomfort.
On the other hand, if someone had a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, after getting the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends that they do not get a second shot of that vaccine. The same is true for people who had an immediate allergic reaction — such as hives, swelling and wheezing — within 4 hours after getting the first dose, even if their allergic reaction was not severe enough to require emergency care. These individuals should talk to their doctor about any concerns they may have about getting the second dose.
After you’ve received your second dose
Once people have received both doses of the vaccine, and 2 or more weeks have passed after the second dose, the benefits of vaccination beyond stopping the spread of COVID-19 become clear. Several activities people participated in before the start of pandemic can once again be enjoyed.
According to the CDC, once people are fully vaccinated, they can:
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with other fully vaccinated people of any age
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with 1 household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness
- Travel without a pre- or post-travel COVID-19 test, unless required by their destination
- Travel without quarantining after travel
However, medical experts emphasize that because it is still unknown whether or not people can spread the virus after vaccination, everyone should continue to practice COVID-19 prevention measures. This includes regularly washing hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing when in public and when spending time with unvaccinated people from multiple households or with people who are unvaccinated and at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness. Experts also recommend avoiding medium or large gatherings.
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