If you chose to get the COVID-19 vaccine when you became eligible, does that mean you can resume your pre-COVID lifestyle? In short, no. The vaccine is not a passport to return to pre-pandemic life and you will still need to take safety precautions after you get the vaccine in order to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community safe—and to slow the virus’ transmission.
First, remember that vaccines don’t work instantly. You don’t get immunity until 7-14 days after the first dose depending on the vaccine you received. And you won’t get full immunity until 7-14 days after getting the required second dose—21 or 28 days after the first one, depending on which one you got. “You still have to be careful after you get the vaccine,” says Soma Mandal, M.D., a board-certified internist at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, NJ, and author of Dear Menopause, I Do Not Fear You. “It takes some time for your body to build immunity.”
While these vaccines aren’t perfect, their efficacy was found to be nearly 95-percent in trials. That said, “the vaccine would ideally work if every single person in the United State had the vaccine,” Dr. Mandal says. “Then we wouldn’t need to be as cautious.”
Wondering what else you should keep in mind after getting the COVID vaccine? Here are some other questions that may be on your mind.
Do I need to wear a mask after I get the vaccine?
Don’t toss that mask supply just yet. You’ll be wearing this new fashion accessory indefinitely. You should also continue to social distance and wash your hands frequently because of the chance that you might be one of the unlucky 5 percent of people who didn’t develop a strong immune response from the vaccine, says David Buchholz, M.D., senior founding medical director for primary care at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in NYC. “As long as there is COVID in our community, we need to continue to take precautions.”
Researchers aren’t sure how long immunity lasts from the vaccine. Plus, the virus is mutating around the world, creating variations that seem to be more contagious. “Whether the vaccines will be effective against those variants is still yet to be determined. The vaccine can give you a false sense of security,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., adjunct assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Department of Basic Biomedical Sciences at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. “We don’t want people to let their guard down.”
Also, you may be asymptomatic, meaning you don’t show symptoms, but you have a low level of the virus in your system that is transmittable to others. “You should do what you did before you got the vaccine, until experts tell us it’s safe not to do so,” says Louis Calderon, R.N., at Catholic Hospital in Bethpage. “Pretend like you didn’t even get [the vaccine]. There is still a tiny chance that you can get COVID. For some people, that five percent can matter. We need everyone to get the vaccine for it to work.”
Can we visit with elderly grandparents if I am vaccinated?
Since the pandemic started, Dr. Mandal’s children have only seen her mother, their grandmother, on FaceTime as they didn’t feel comfortable having an in-person visit. Once Dr. Mandel’s mother received her first dose of the vaccine, Dr. Mandal felt more comfortable. So, she, her mother, and her elementary school-aged daughter met up outside with masks on and social distancing in effect.
While you’re likely feeling antsy to see those grandparents, especially if they’ve been isolated during the pandemic, you must be cautious. It’s going take a while before everyone in a family is vaccinated, especially since vaccines haven’t been authorized for use in children (who can carry COVID and be asymptomatic). “It’s the most common question I get,” Calderon says. “I say ‘yes,’ but do so safely.”
When you’re seeing people who have received both doses of the vaccine, you have a lower risk of getting sick. For example, two vaccinated grandparents can see their two vaccinated adult children with low risk. The larger a circle gets, the larger the risk becomes. “Once both the grandparents and their grandchildren are vaccinated and the group is kept small, the risk of someone having COVID and transmitting it to someone else is low,” Dr. Buchholz says.
Can I travel once I'm vaccinated?
The virus has impacted all forms of travel from commuters who avoid mass transit to vacationers cancelling trips. If it’s essential travel, then of course do so—but “you still have to take precautions if you’re traveling,” says Dr. Mandal. “Not everyone is vaccinated.” Follow safety measures like mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, and social distancing, and look into the travel restrictions and guidelines for where you’re going. It’s not the travel itself that’s an issue; it’s who you might be encountering during that travel.
Can I attend a large gathering if I got the vaccine?
Facebook may be taunting you with memories of a Broadway show or a Knicks game. Unfortunately, it may be a while before we’re attending a packed concert, performing arts show, or sporting event—though Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that large arenas and stadiums can host in-person events, with strict rules in place, starting Feb. 23. This is especially true for gatherings that are in an enclosed space, which is risky because you don’t know if the strangers around you have been vaccinated. “Until there is less COVID in the community, avoiding large gatherings is still essential to prevent the spread of the virus,” Dr. Buchholz says.
Can I go to restaurants if I'm vaccinated?
Maskless dining indoors carries some risk (when looking at contact tracing data from September-November 2020, 1.43% of COVID cases in NY were from restaurants and bars, according to the Governor’s office). As you talk and chew, your respiratory droplets are spreading all around. You may be transmitting the virus through those droplets, which can float and linger in poorly ventilated spaces. (Most restaurants lack the proper indoor air filtration equipment.) You also want to take into account the rates in your community. If the rates are high, Dr. Mandal says, it’s not wise to eat indoors. Outdoor dining, as well as takeout and delivery, are lower risk options. Ultimately, the decision is up to you and your comfort level.
Bottom line? Stay vigilant! While the vaccine is a big step in the right direction, we’re unfortunately still a long way from a new normal.