I'm Vaccinated. Now What?

Safe Socialization Strategies and Information for Residents Post Vaccination

As you feel the final sting of the needle from your 2nd COVID-19 vaccination injection, you may also be feeling something else entirely: relief. Your vaccination appointment marks the beginning of a brand new stage of the pandemic, and perhaps you're finally seeing the proverbial light at the end of the long dark COVID tunnel we've all been stuck inside for over a year. But before you're blinded by that light, it's important to know the safety guidelines suggested for you in this new post-vaccine world in order to protect yourself and others from the continued spread of the virus. Here are some important reminders that public health experts want community members to consider before resuming regular activities. You are not immune to COVID-19 (yet).

With your final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, it can typically take up to 2 weeks for your body to develop the protection it needs to fight off the virus effectively. This means until that time; you are still at regular risk for contracting the virus. After two weeks have passed, you are considered protected but still not 100% immune from COVID-19. The three approved vaccines here in the United States, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, have very high efficacy rates. The Pfizer vaccine has proven 95% effective against preventing COVID-19 infection in clinical trials. Moderna has shown a rate of 94.1% effectiveness at preventing infection. Finally, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has proven to have 72% efficacy in preventing COVID-19 virus infection among its users. One crucial point to consider is the high efficacy in clinical trials to avoid severe infection for all three vaccine brands. Pfizer and Moderna showed almost 100% efficacy at preventing severe illness, while Johnson & Johnson reported 86% effectiveness.

Vaccines will never be 100% effective due to the natural variations among human immune systems responses. However, increasing vaccination rates can lead to herd immunity. Today, vaccination rates in Massachusetts have reached 1.98 million people, but we do not yet know the required population herd immunity rate for this virus. Getting vaccinated is one step closer to keeping our communities safe.

You are still required to "mask up." Tempted to organize a community bonfire to burn those pesky masks now that you're vaccinated? Don't send out those invites quite yet. While some states have revoked their mask mandates against CDC guidelines, Massachusetts has not lifted the statewide mask mandate. Residents and visitors are still required to wear a mask in any public space or gathering regardless of vaccination status. As scientists are still studying whether vaccinated individuals can spread the disease, you can protect others by adhering to the masking and social distancing orders. You are also required to wear a mask on planes, trains, buses, and other forms of transportation during domestic and international travel.

The good news is that there are some mask restrictions lifted for the vaccinated population. If you've been fully vaccinated, you can now visit inside a home or private setting without a mask (or six feet of distance) with other fully vaccinated people of any age. In addition, you may visit inside a home or private setting without a mask (or six feet of distance) in one household of unvaccinated people as long as no one in the household is at risk for severe illness. This means that the visits and hugs from grandma and grandpa that your kids have been dreaming of may now become a reality.

Ready to party? Keep it small

Countless celebrations have been postponed as a result of the pandemic restrictions. Weddings, birthdays, holidays, graduations, religious celebrations, and many other gatherings were missed or delayed over the past year. Now that you're vaccinated, you may be tempted to schedule some party time. Expert advice? Keep it small. The current indoor gathering restrictions in Massachusetts at private residences are limited to ten total people, while outdoor gatherings at private homes are limited to twenty-five. For public settings, the limit remains one hundred people indoors and one hundred and fifty people outdoors. As the spring season slowly tames the harsh New England weather, outdoor gatherings will naturally begin again. Restrictions on gatherings still apply regardless of vaccination status. As much as we'd like to think our vaccination card can be played like the Monopoly "get out of jail free" card, remember that the CDC still recommends avoiding large gatherings.

Don't travel lightly

We could all use a vacation, especially after the COVID cabin fever we've all experienced over the winter months here in Massachusetts. However, it is important when deciding to travel not to make your decisions lightly. With proper research regarding COVID-19 status and protocols for your desired destination, your travel plans will be safer and hopefully smoother sailing.

The CDC has stated that domestic travel for vaccinated individuals is safe but recommends additional mitigation strategies to combat the spread of the virus. When traveling on planes, trains, buses, and cruise ships, it is essential to avoid high-touch surfaces and crowds. It is also important to continue mask-wearing, frequent hand sanitizing, and maintaining six feet of distance when possible.

Massachusetts has lifted the travel ban for vaccinated individuals. You no longer need to test negative or quarantine for ten days to travel in and out of the Bay State. Many of our neighboring New England states have similar changes in their travel restrictions. Before planning that road trip, be sure to check each state's guidance on travel and visitor restrictions.

The CDC has also prepared guidance for international travel for individuals who are fully vaccinated. They urge travelers to check the status of COVID in their desired location before they travel and familiarize themselves with that country's pandemic-related requirements and restrictions. Avoid areas with high infection rates, and continue to adhere to the mask, sanitizing, and distancing guidelines when possible. It is recommended that any person traveling by air coming into the United States get tested for COVID-19 three-five days after travel, including vaccinated individuals. Vaccinated people do not need to self-quarantine upon reentry to the United States after international traveling unless they are symptomatic or test positive for the virus. So if you're itching to dust off those suitcases and start your travel plans, you can feel better knowing your risk is low of contracting the illness once vaccinated. Be sure to research your destination, and plan well to ensure even greater safety.

There are still unanswered questions

According to the CDC, we are still learning about several variables in COVID-19 immunized individuals. Some of the unknown information includes the following:

  • Experts continue to monitor how long the vaccine will protect individuals from the COVID-19 virus, but finite times are unknown. Yearly vaccination may become a continued part of the mitigation strategy.

  • Scientists are still learning how well vaccines prevent the spread of the virus to others asymptomatically. While this is studied, it is crucial to continue masking and social distancing guidelines to protect others who are not vaccinated.

  • We are still learning how effective these vaccines are on variant strains of the virus. With several mutations being discovered, it may be some time before we know hard numbers on efficacy for viral variants such as those first found in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, and California.

As the medical and public health community works to close these gaps of information with data, there still exists potential to spread or contract the illness after being vaccinated. However, that potential is certainly reduced.

The new normal

As the world slowly gets back to regularly scheduled activities, remember that everyone's comfort level with socialization will be different. You may see great variety among your friends and family members' comfortability with gatherings, travel, and socialization despite their vaccine status. Patience and understanding will go a long way in helping to transition your loved ones back into a pre-COVID level of interaction. Be sure to check reliable sources such as https://www.cdc.gov and https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-updates-and-information for the latest information on COVID-19 guidance.

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