As the number of Americans who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine grows by the day, so too does the shared sense of relief that comes with being “liberated” from a deadly and highly transmissible virus. Now that you’ve been vaccinated, you say you’re ready to put this pandemic behind you and get back to living life the way it was before? Not so fast, doctors advise.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick and keeping you out of the hospital if you do. Based on what is known about these vaccines, the CDC says that “people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
That’s welcome news here in Florida where, starting today, all adults age 18 and older are now eligible to receive the vaccine. “What are you waiting for?” asks Madeline Camejo, Pharm.D., chief pharmacy officer and vice president of pharmacy services at Baptist Health South Florida. “Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the safest, most effective way to build protection for yourself, your family and your community.”
According to Dr. Camejo, a person is considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.
What can you do, now that you’re fully vaccinated?
According to current guidance from the CDC, people who’ve been vaccinated can:
• Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
• Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Dr. Camejo adds that once you’ve been vaccinated, if you find you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you no longer need to stay away from others or get tested. “If you were to develop symptoms, however, then of course you’d want to self-isolate and seek care right away.”
Precaution still advised after being vaccinated
Once you’ve been vaccinated, Dr. Camejo says, you’ll still need to take normal precautions with the coronavirus. “We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. Until the majority of our population has been vaccinated and we reach herd immunity, my advice to you is to proceed with caution,” she says. “That means, wear your mask, stay six feet apart from others and avoid large crowds and poorly ventilated places.”
These precautions should be taken not just when you’re out in public, but any time you’re gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household, according to the CDC. Extra care should also be taken when visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk.
The CDC also advises that people who have been vaccinated should still avoid medium- or large-size gatherings and delay domestic and international travel. For those who do travel, the CDC has helpful information on requirements and recommendations for traveling during the pandemic.
In a pandemic, every day is a new learning opportunity
Dr. Camejo says we have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past year but there’s still much to be learned. “We’re still learning how well these vaccines prevent you from spreading the coronavirus to others, even if you don’t have symptoms,” she says. “We’re also learning how long the COVID-19 vaccines protect people, and how many people have to be vaccinated for us to reach herd immunity.”
Herd immunity, she explains, happens when enough people are protected from a disease because they’ve been vaccinated or had the disease. Only then can the spread of the disease be effectively slowed and eventually contained.
“Getting as many people vaccinated as possible is the only way out of this pandemic,” Dr. Camejo states. “If we ever want to get back to some sense of normalcy – to life the way we remember it before March 11, 2020 – then we need for the majority of the population to get their vaccine.”