Whatís safe after the COVID-19
vaccination? Donít shed masks yet
By Lauran Neergaard
The Associated Press
Youíre fully vaccinated against the coronavirus ó now what?
Donít expect to shed your mask and get back to normal activities
Thatís going to be a disappointment, if not a shock, to many
In Miami, 81-year-old Noemi Caraballo got her second dose on
Tuesday and is looking forward to seeing friends, resuming
fitness classes, and running errands after nearly a year of
being extremely cautious, even ordering groceries online.
"Her line is, ĎIím tired of talking to the cats and the
parrots,í" said her daughter Susan Caraballo. "She wants to do
things and talk to people."
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
hasnít yet changed its guidelines: At least for now, people
should follow the same rules as everybody else about wearing a
mask, keeping a 6-foot distance, and avoiding crowds ó even
after theyíve gotten their second vaccine dose.
Vaccines in use so far require two doses, and experts say
especially donít let your guard down after the first dose.
"Youíre asking a very logical question," Dr. Anthony Fauci,
the top U.S. infectious disease expert, responded when a
91-year-old California woman recently asked if she and her
vaccinated friends could resume their mah-jongg games.
In that webcast exchange, Fauci only could point to the CDCís
recommendations, which so far are mum about exceptions for
vaccinated people getting together. "Hang on," he told the
woman, saying he expected updates to the guidelines as more
people get the coveted shots.
What experts also need to learn: The vaccines are highly
effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, especially severe
illness and death ó but no one yet knows how well they block
spread of the coronavirus.
Itís great if the vaccine means someone who otherwise would
have been hospitalized instead just has the sniffles, or even no
symptoms. But "the looming question," Fauci said during a White
House coronavirus response briefing last week, is whether a
person infected despite vaccination can still, unwittingly,
infect someone else.
Studies are underway to find out, and hints are starting to
emerge. Fauci pointed to recent research from Spain showing the
more coronavirus an infected person harbors ó whatís called the
viral load ó the more infectious they are. Thatís not
surprising, as itís true with other illnesses.
Some preliminary findings from Israel have suggested people
infected after the first vaccine dose, when theyíre only
partially protected, had smaller viral loads than unvaccinated
people who got infected. Thatís encouraging if the findings hold
up. Israel has vaccinated a large fraction of its population and
scientists worldwide are watching how the outbreak responds as
those inoculations increase.
Also critical is tracking whether the vaccines protect
against new, mutated versions of the virus that are spreading
rapidly in some countries, added Dr. Walter Orenstein, an
infectious disease expert at Emory University. Heís been
vaccinated and is scrupulously following the CDC guidelines.
There are practical reasons. "Itís hard to tell who got
vaccinated and who didnít if youíre just walking around the
grocery store," noted University of Pennsylvania immunologist E.
And experts like Wherry get asked, repeatedly: Yes, there are
rules for being in public, but whatís safe for grandma to do at
home, with family or close friends, after sheís vaccinated?
Not everyoneís immune system is boosted equally from vaccines
ó so someone with cancer or the frail elderly may not get as
much protection as a robust 70-something.
But most people should feel "more confident about going
shopping, for example, or going to see your grandkids, or giving
your daughter a hug," Wherry said.
Thatís because the chances of a fully vaccinated person
getting seriously ill, while not zero, are low.
"Friends coming over for dinner, we should still try to
follow the guidelines," Wherry added. "You never know who is
compromised, where the vaccine may not work as well."
What if the fully vaccinated are exposed to someone whoís
infected? The CDC did recently ease those rules: No quarantine
as long as the vaccinated person shows no symptoms and itís been
at least two weeks but not longer than three months since their
Getting on an airplane? Vaccinated or not, the CDC still
urges essential travel only.
International travel is an even tougher prospect. Expect
countries that already have different quarantine and test
requirements to come up with varying post-vaccination guidelines
ó especially since multiple types of vaccines, some better
proven than others, are used around the world. Thereís also the
concern about carrying those worrisome mutations from one
country to another.
Stay tuned for updates to the advice as more people get
vaccinated. Meanwhile, donít underestimate how important it is
for the vaccinated to feel less anxiety as they run errands or
go to work while still following the public health measures,
said Dr. Luciana Borio, a former Food and Drug Administration
Even with a trip to the grocery store, "there was always this
anxiety about, ĎWas that the contact thatís going to make me
infected?í" Borio said. "That is a very powerful change in oneís
Associated Press reporter Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed
to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives
support from the Howard Hughes Medical Instituteís Department of
Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.