Apr 1, 2021, 11:52:45 AM CDT May 12, 2021, 4:28:44 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

After a challenging year, many people are hopeful that the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines mean an end is in sight for the pandemic.

"Just past a year of the first cases of COVID-19 in Texas, we already have multiple vaccines available," says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern. "That is extraordinary. To think a year ago we would be in this position is astonishing."

As more and more people become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, you may be wondering what you can do once you've received your shot. Can you return to life as normal? Not quite yet, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Kahn explains the CDC recommendations and how to make smart choices for your family.

When are you "fully vaccinated"?

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

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick from COVID-19. Two weeks after your second dose or only single-dose, you can start to safely change some of your behaviors.

What fully vaccinated families can do at home

The most exciting news is that vaccinated people can start having get-togethers with some friends and family again. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing, as long as they are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease (see who is at increased risk for severe illness)
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic

Because of how the COVID-19 vaccine has been distributed, grandparents may be among the first in your family to receive the vaccine. This means that once grandparents are vaccinated, they could safely visit and hug their low-risk grandchildren without masks.

While these steps are exciting, it's important to remember:

  • Only one low-risk unvaccinated household can visit with a vaccinated household at a time.
  • Big gatherings with multiple unvaccinated households are still not recommended because they will put unvaccinated people at a higher risk.
  • Vaccinated people should still take precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks if seeing unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe infection.

Even if you are vaccinated, if you show any signs of COVID-19 like cough, fever or fatigue, you should still avoid visiting anyone while you have symptoms. You should also avoid visiting people if you test positive for COVID-19, whether or not you have symptoms.

What fully vaccinated people can do in public

In public, fully vaccinated people should continue following safety guidelines including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds. That's because while the vaccines offer clear benefits, we're still learning how long they will provide immunity and how effective they are against COVID-19 variants.

"We don't know how long natural immunity from getting the infection lasts," says Dr. Kahn. "We don't know how long vaccine immunity lasts, and we don't know how effective the vaccines will be against future variants."

Dr. Kahn says that these factors make it hard to predict when we will reach any sort of "herd immunity." But it's clear that stopping precautions like masks and social distancing too early could cause another big wave of infections – especially when only a small portion of the population has been vaccinated so far.

"There's still a lot of virus circulating out there and new variants are emerging," says Dr. Kahn. "This gives us all the more reason to be diligent with our masks and social distancing."

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

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel safely, according to guidelines from the CDC. Even if you are fully vaccinated, it's important to take precautions during travel, such as wearing a mask, keeping distance from others and washing hands frequently. It’s also important to monitor for any symptoms that could be COVID-19, including after travel. Before traveling, make sure you check for any location-specific travel restrictions or requirements.

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.

When can children get vaccinated for COVID-19?

Children and teens ages 12 years and older can now get vaccinated for COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for children under age 12, but clinical trials are underway to ensure they are safe. This means that younger children will likely be able to get vaccinated in the future, but the exact timing is unknown.

Dr. Kahn says it is important to remember that though kids tend to have less severe COVID-19 illness than adults, they are not immune from the virus. There have been children admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 and some children may experience a rare condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

Though everyone, kids and adults alike, is itching to get together again and enjoy restaurants or public activities without a mask, it's important to be patient.

"This is not the time to let your guard down," says Dr. Kahn. "All the trends are in the right direction, and more and more people are getting vaccinated. A few more months of masking and social distancing might get this under control. We are slowly inching toward a return to normal, but we just aren't there yet."

The CDC will update their recommendations as they learn more. By continuing to take precautions, vaccinated and unvaccinated people can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and bring us closer 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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