Apr 1, 2021, 11:52:45 AM CDT Oct 29, 2021, 2:54:10 PM CDT

What can you do after you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

An infectious disease expert explains what families should know about CDC recommendations for life after vaccination

Grandfather with his granddaughters Grandfather with his granddaughters

As more and more people become eligible for the COVID‑19 vaccines, you may be wondering what you can do once you've received your shot. Can you return to life as normal? In some ways, yes, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The COVID‑19 vaccines are very effective at protecting you from getting sick from COVID‑19.

However, due to spread of the Delta variant, the CDC updated their guidance to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission. This is to maximize protection for yourself and for others against this variant and the spread of COVID‑19.

Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern explains the CDC recommendations and how to make smart choices for your family.

When are you "fully vaccinated" against COVID‑19?

It can take time for your body to develop immunity after getting the COVID‑19 vaccine. You are considered fully vaccinated either:

  • 2 weeks after your second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine
  • 2 weeks after your first and only dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Two weeks after your second dose or only single-dose, you can start to safely resume some of the normal activities that you had stopped doing during the pandemic.

What can you do once you're fully vaccinated?

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can start to resume many of the activities they previously enjoyed, including spending time with loved ones and participating in social events. This is because the COVID‑19 vaccines have been found to be highly effective in preventing illness from COVID‑19.

In certain situations, fully vaccinated people may still need to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask when in public indoor settings in areas where spread of COVID‑19 is high. You can check the level of spread of COVID‑19 in your area on the CDC website. In addition, it’s important to continue to follow workplace and business guidelines and wear masks in certain settings such as public transportation and health care facilities.

If you have a health condition that weakens your immune system, you may need to continue taking COVID‑19 precautions when you're vaccinated. This includes wearing a mask in public regardless of the level of COVID‑19 spread in your area. That's because researchers are still learning how well the COVID‑19 vaccine works for those with weakened immune systems. Talk with your health care provider for more guidance.

It's important to note that these recommendations only apply to people who are fully vaccinated. People who are not fully vaccinated should continue to take all precautions to prevent the spread of COVID‑19.

Can you travel after you get the COVID‑19 vaccine?

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID‑19 can travel safely. When traveling in the U.S., fully vaccinated people can do so without getting tested for COVID‑19 or self-quarantining. If traveling outside the U.S., research your destination and pay attention to their cases and travel requirements. The CDC also recommends that you get tested after international travel.

Masks are still required when traveling on planes, buses and trains – even if you are fully vaccinated. Following these guidelines helps ensure people stay safe in crowded settings where risk of spread is high.

The CDC recommends delaying travel for those who are not fully vaccinated because travel can increase the chance of getting and spreading COVID‑19. Since the COVID‑19 vaccine is not yet approved for young children, this means parents should still take precautions if considering a family vacation.

Can you get COVID‑19 after getting vaccinated?

COVID‑19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID‑19 illness. It can take a few weeks to build immunity after you get the vaccine, so it is possible to become infected with COVID‑19 just before or after you get your shot.

There are also some factors that are still being learned – such as how long the vaccines will provide protection and how effective they are against new COVID‑19 variants. The CDC is monitoring breakthrough infections will continue to update recommendations as they learn more.

While your risk of getting COVID‑19 when fully vaccinated is low, if you show any signs of COVID‑19 like cough, fever or fatigue, you should avoid visiting anyone while you have symptoms and get tested. You should also avoid visiting people if you test positive for COVID‑19, whether or not you have symptoms.

If you're fully vaccinated and come into contact with someone with COVID‑19, you should watch for any symptoms in yourself. It's recommended that you also get tested 3-5 days after exposure, even if you do not have any symptoms. 

What should vaccinated parents of unvaccinated children know?

Children ages 5 years and older can now get vaccinated for COVID‑19. Getting vaccinated is a safe and effective way to prevent COVID‑19 illness.

If you have children who are too young to be vaccinated, it’s important to take steps to prevent illness.

Encourage children to properly wash hands, wear masks if over the age of 2 and opt for activities that have lower risk of COVID‑19, such as outdoor events. This is particularly important in households with unvaccinated children and/or adults who may be at high risk for severe illness from COVID‑19. It's also important for children in households with someone who has a weakened immune system, even if they have been vaccinated.

While kids tend to have less severe illness from COVID‑19 than adults, they are not immune from the virus. There have been children admitted to the hospital for COVID‑19 and some children have experienced a rare, but serious condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

Though everyone, especially parents, is itching to fully return to pre-pandemic life, it's important to be patient.

"As a society, we are moving closer and closer to getting the virus under control. We have to do all that is possible to make sure we are successful," says Dr. Kahn. "By getting vaccinated when you're able, and taking precautions when you're not, families can continue to take steps to end this pandemic and return to life ‘as normal' again."

What's safe after the COVID vaccine? If you've been vaccinated or plan to be, learn what's safe to do from an infectious disease expert @Childrens.

Learn more

Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID‑19 hub.

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