So you’ve been vaccinated… now what?
Unfortunately, receiving your Covid-19 vaccination does not mean you can return to normal, pre-pandemic life just yet. While yes, a vaccine will significantly lower your risk of a serious Coronavirus illness, there are still precautions you should take for the foreseeable future.
Below, we’ve compiled several steps to ensure you stay healthy and Covid-19 free till the end of the pandemic.
What does being vaccinated really protect you against?
According to the CDC, you are not "fully vaccinated" until two weeks have passed after your second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or 2 weeks after the first dose of Johnson & Johnson. Interestingly, studies suggest after the first dose, the vaccine is around 80% effective. After two weeks, however, the vaccines will reach their full efficacy levels.
Regardless of effectiveness, the vaccine will not completely prevent you from becoming infected with COVID-19. The vaccine does not work like a shield, totally blocking a virus from infecting cells. Rather, the vaccine will protect you from the disease and accompanying symptoms. Studies have also suggested COVID-19 vaccines help lower viral load for those who become infected with the disease. A decreased viral load will not only decrease the likelihood of severe symptoms but will also decrease infectiousness.
It is also important to note that the vaccines were not created to stop infection, rather, the primary goal of the vaccines’ clinical trials was to demonstrate that the vaccines prevent symptomatic infections and moderate to severe cases of COVID-19. The trials were not designed to determine if the vaccines also block asymptomatic infections.
One study by the Israeli Health Ministry and Pfizer found that a COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated an 89% reduction in both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. But this is the only study thus far that has suggested asymptomatic spread is also reduced by the vaccine- we will likely see more in the future.
Essentially, once you have been fully vaccinated, you are still not in the clear. There is still a risk of catching and spreading Covid-19. However, the vaccine will protect you from severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization. And as more people receive the vaccination, the closer we get to life returning back to normal.
What you can do after being fully vaccinated:
Visit friends or family that have also been vaccinated inside a residence
Visit friends or family who have not been vaccinated but are not at risk for severe illness inside a residence
Travel domestically & internationally without a pre and post test
Travel domestically & internationally without having to quarantine after
Do not have to quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19, unless symptoms are present
The elderly can see family and friends
What you should avoid after being fully vaccinated:
Visit friends or family who have not been vaccinated and are at an increased risk of severe infection inside a residence
Medium or large gatherings, inside or outside
Poorly ventilated spaces with people
The CDC recommends maintaining all protective measures, like standing 6 feet apart from people and wearing a mask in public, for the foreseeable future. When more vaccines have been administered and cases begin to lower significantly, restrictions will ease.
Why is the vaccine not the end-all?
As described above, researchers and scientists are still unclear as to whether we can still spread COVID-19 or become infected with the virus after vaccination. Obviously, this is one of the largest reasons normal life cannot be resumed yet.
But the numerous COVID-19 variants also pose risk for the efficacy of the vaccines. South Africa’s B.1.351 variant, Brazil’s P.1 variant, and New York City’s B.1.526 variant are spreading throughout the US. These variants all contain the E484K mutation- which may assist the virus in evading the immune system’s antibodies.
The three approved vaccines have had varying results in response to new coronavirus variants. Clinical trials have demonstrated Johnson & Johnson to be less effective at preventing symptomatic infection for the B.1.351 variant. The vaccine was still effective at reducing severe COVID-19 symptoms. Data released by Pfizer demonstrates that the vaccine was very effective against the B.1.351 variant. Moderna is currently testing an updated shot that will specifically target the B.1.351 variant.
Booster shots are also being tested in response to new variants. Some scientists speculate a yearly COVID-19 booster shot will be as normal as a yearly flu vaccine.