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As more people receive a COVID-19 vaccine, questions may come up about what that really means, and how that will change our lifestyles moving forward. Below are a few questions and answers you may have after you receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Note: This article has been updated since its first release, as the CDC announced new guidelines on April 27th around post-vaccination behaviors, along with the update on mask wearing in May.

Q: Can a COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?

A: No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines being authorized or recommended contain the virus that causes COVID-19. Therefore, the COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19 (CDC, 2021a). Each COVID-19 vaccine teaches the immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine may cause symptoms such as a fever, which are signs that the body is building protection against the virus (CDC, 2021a).

Q: When am I considered “fully vaccinated”?

A: Full vaccination means two weeks after your final dose of the vaccine (second dose for Pfizer and Moderna, and the first dose for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine)(CDC, 2021c). Your body needs time to build this immunity, so do not think that once you get your shot, you obtain immediate immunity.

Q: Does getting the vaccine mean I am immune to COVID-19?

A: Not 100%. The vaccines administered by the three companies do not create 100% immunity. This means that there is still a chance you could get infected with COVID-19. The vaccination, however, will protect you from getting severely ill due to the virus (CDC, 2021a). Vaccinated people should still watch for symptoms if they had recent contact with someone who had COVID-19, and is recommended to test 3-5 days after exposure (CDC, 2021c). Those who are in contact are also recommended to wear masks in public indoor settings for 14 days as well. In addition, remember that it takes time for the body to build protection. Protection takes about two weeks after the final dose of the vaccine (CDC, 2021b).

Q: What do I need to do if I get COVID-19 AFTER vaccination?

A: If you know you have been exposed to someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 AFTER you are vaccinated, continue to monitor your symptoms. Vaccinated people should still watch for symptoms if they had recent contact with someone who had COVID-19, and is recommended to test 3-5 days after exposure (CDC, 2021c). If you start getting COVID-19 symptoms, you should get proper testing, and quarantine yourself to prevent others from being infected.

Q: Does getting the vaccine mean I won’t spread the virus to others at all?

A: To some extent yes. According to the CDC’s announcement on March 8, 2021, studies indicate that those who are vaccinated are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and possibly less likely to transmit the virus to others (CDC, 2021c).  If you do get infected however, you can be contagious. Even if you are vaccinated, the CDC still asks you to continue the practice of wearing masks, limiting physical contact with others, and regular handwashing especially in public areas.

Q: Do I need to continue wearing a mask after I’m vaccinated?

A: Sometimes. Currently the state of California requires masks for all people while they are indoors unless they are all fully vaccinated. As of May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals. Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. This updated guidance does not override state, county, or local mandates regarding masks. The vaccine is an added prevention strategy ALONG WITH wearing masks to keep the virus from spreading. Continuing best practices (handwashing, wearing masks, physical distancing) remains relevant and important (CDC, 2021c).

For more information, take a look at the CDC chart here.

Q: Does life return to normal once I’m vaccinated? Can I travel again, or go to large gatherings?

Not just yet. Be sure to follow your local laws and guidelines for safety and protective measures regarding COVID-19. For public spaces, wearing masks and keeping distances continue to be key measures to stay safe since not everyone is vaccinated. If you do have plans to gather, make sure they align with your area’s local guidelines.  

Domestic travel can be resumed but be sure to follow the local guidelines of the locations you are traveling to. Remember, travel increases risk because you come in contact with other people, potentially spreading or exposing others to COVID-19. International travel should be avoided if not fully vaccinated. Even after vaccination, following airline protocols and keeping up with international travel restrictions is necessary. Large, indoor gatherings should still be avoided (CDC, 2021c). Vaccines are just a part of the overall prevention strategy (Clopton, 2021).

Currently, CDC guidelines say fully vaccinated individuals can do the following without wearing masks or physical distancing:

  • Meet indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals
  • Meet indoors with unvaccinated individuals from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19
  • Participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask, except in certain crowded settings and venues
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States.
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
  • Refrain from routine screening testing

If there are any individuals who are unvaccinated and at an increased risk for COVID-19, or living with anyone at risk for severe COVID-19 disease, masks and proper distancing should be maintained at this time even if you are vaccinated (CDC, 2021c). The CDC also recommends that you do take proper distancing and mask wearing if seeing people from multiple households who are unvaccinated as well.

Q: After I am fully vaccinated, can I hug my grandchildren?

A: The answer depends. Children are not able to receive the vaccine yet. If they are at a risk of getting severe COVID-19, proper distancing protocol should be enforced to keep your grandchildren safe (CDC, 2021c). Individuals should assess what risk to take.

Q: If two people are fully vaccinated, is it safe for them to hug?

A: Technically, yes. The new guidelines announced on March 8 by the CDC show that individual, private gatherings may be held without distancing. However, note that the CDC does NOT endorse medium- and large-sized gathering at this time (CDC, 2021c).

*Please remember that the COVID-19 vaccines are new vaccines. Information is changing rapidly and the answers to these questions may change over time. Please continue to wear masks and stay home as much as possible to keep yourselves and others safe.

Sources

California Government. (2021). Masks. Retrieved from: https://covid19.ca.gov/masks-and-ppe/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021a). Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021b). What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect/after.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021c). Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html

Clopton, J. (2021). COVID FAQ: I got the Vaccine. Is Life Normal Again? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vaccines/covid-19-vaccine/news/20210203/covid-faq-i-got-the-vaccine-is-life-normal-again

Clopton, J. (2021). COVID FAQ: I got the Vaccine. Is Life Normal Again? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vaccines/covid-19-vaccine/news/20210203/covid-faq-i-got-the-vaccine-is-life-normal-again

Ianzito, C. (2021). Can You Hug Your Grandkids After Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine? Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2021/hugging-after-covid-vaccine.html