As we enter what feels like the next and hopefully final chapter in this pandemic that's taken over nearly every facet of our lives for more than a year, we Americans are starting to regain a sense of normal that feels at least somewhat familiar to our pre-pandemic days.
But even if you're fully vaccinated, there's still good reason to be cautious.
There are the COVID variants, for one. So far, the vaccines seem to be effective against these mutants, but it's very possible that others will continue to crop up, notes Leonard Krilov, MD, chairman of Pediatrics and chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island.
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It's also still unknown just what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated (or infected) to achieve herd immunity. "Best guesses are 70 to 90 percent, which will be difficult to achieve, not just based on availability, but also on the extent of vaccine-hesitant individuals," Dr. Krilov says.
What's more: While the Pfizer vaccine has been granted Emergency Use Authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds, "for younger children the studies are just beginning, so I expect a vaccine for them will not be available until early to mid 2022," Dr. Krilov says.
We're also not totally sure how long immunity lasts from the vaccines.
"Additionally, we do not know whether a vaccinated person can have an asymptomatic infection and transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to others," Dr. Krilov says. "It is very likely that if the latter occurs, infection is much less likely and for shorter periods than for an unvaccinated person. But until we know better the risks for vaccinated individuals, precautions are still in order."
This means we're not yet out of the woods when it comes to things like wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
Still, being vaccinated does give you a little more freedom in your day-to-day. Here, doctors break down what you should and shouldn't do after getting the shot.
1. Do: Hug Your Parents and Grandparents
After you are fully vaccinated, your risk of getting COVID-19 is very low, per the CDC. And your risk of getting severe COVID is even lower.
That's why you can now get together indoors sans masks with friends or family members outside of your household, and yes, even hug one another if you're all fully vaccinated. If a family member is not vaccinated, you can still hug them, as long as they're not at a higher risk for severe COVID.
For the record, fully vaccinated means it's been at least two weeks since your second shot of Pfizer or Moderna, or since you got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
2. Do: Ditch the Mask Unless Required
Per May 2021 CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask when they're outside — even at a crowded event with a lot of people, like a concert, sports game or parade — or in some indoor spaces, including movie theaters and restaurants with friends or family members from multiple households.
But even though it's A-OK to go maskless in many cases, face coverings may still be required by your state, city or workplace or by the business you're visiting.
3. Don't: Host Large Parties or Get-Togethers
Experts say it's probably still too soon to throw (or attend) that big summer shebang with all the people you've missed seeing over the past year.
"This is because large gatherings can cause the virus to spread, which can lead to more mutations and variance," Niket Sonpal, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "This is true even if you have been vaccinated, as there is still a small chance of contraction."
4. Do: Encourage Your Friends to Get the Vaccine
Scrolling through social media can be like browsing the tabloid section at your local grocery store — there's a lot of false information out there, and it's causing some resistance to vaccination, Dr. Sonpal says.
That's why he recommends sharing factual information with your circle. Perhaps hearing why you chose to get vaccinated or what your experience was like getting the vaccine will encourage others to do the same.
5. Don’t: Plan an International Trip Just Yet
The pandemic is still not well-controlled in many areas of the world, so hold off on planning that long-awaited vacation for now.
"Many countries are not allowing the United States to enter, and moreover, vaccination is not a green card," Dr. Sonpal says. "We want to give the health care institutions time to catch up and also give the scientists time to ensure that the new variants of COVID-19 are being neutralized by the current vaccinations."
Note that if you do travel internationally, you'll still need to get a COVID test after returning to the U.S. even if you're fully vaccinated, but you won't need to self-quarantine, according to the CDC.
6. Do: Keep Up With Hand-Washing
When you get home from school, work, the grocery store or any public setting at all, it's vital that you wash your hands immediately — even after you've been vaccinated.
"With the increase in hand-washing and hand sanitizing in day camps this past summer, we saw a significant decrease in typical summer infections," Sharon Nachman, MD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Simple steps like hand-washing work to prevent many easily passed infections."
7. Don't: Worry About Quarantining
One of the perks of being vaccinated is that you don't have to quarantine for 14 days if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, per the CDC.
That's if you don't have any symptoms of COVID, of course, which can include fever, chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, body aches, sore throat or loss of taste or smell. If you do, get tested and keep your distance from others as you wait for your results.
Read more stories to help you navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic:
Is This an Emergency?
- COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States
- Leonard Krilov, M.D., chairman of Pediatrics and chief, Pediatric Infectious Disease at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island
- When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated
- Sharon Nachman, M.D., Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital
- John Whyte, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at WebMD
- Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City