As vaccination rates increase across the country, more and more people are getting the relief they’ve long awaited. After over a year of unprecedented uncertainty, there is finally light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
But even after you’re fully vaccinated, some uncertainty still lingers—what’s safe for me to do now?
With information about Covid changing every day, it can be hard to stay on top of the latest and best practices. So we’ve compiled the most recent guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about how to protect yourself and others once you’re fully vaccinated.
When Will You Be Fully Vaccinated?
Research shows that all of the Covid vaccines on the market are very effective at protecting you from getting sick, and that once you’re fully vaccinated, you will be safe to resume some of the activities that you’ve missed out on this past year.
But when exactly are you considered to be “fully vaccinated”? Two weeks after your final dose of the vaccine.
So, if you’ve received one of the two-dose vaccines on the market (Pfizer or Moderna), you’ll have to wait two weeks after your second shot before you’re considered to be fully vaccinated.
Or, if you’ve received the single dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, wait two weeks after your first and only shot.
Keep in mind that although you’ll receive some protection before that final two week mark, you’re not considered fully vaccinated until then.
What You Can Do Once You’re Fully Vaccinated
Have the two weeks passed since your final shot? Congratulations! You’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Though the CDC recommends that individuals who are fully vaccinated should continue taking some precautions—like wearing a mask in public places, staying six feet apart from people you don’t know or who haven’t yet been fully vaccinated, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—there are some activities you can resume doing in the US:
You can gather indoors with other people who have been fully vaccinated—without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.
You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household, without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. (Unless these people or those they live with have an increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19.)
You can travel domestically without getting tested before or after travel and without self-quarantining upon arrival.
If you’re planning to travel internationally, be sure to follow your destination’s guidelines for entering and leaving the country. Regardless of your destination, here are the US guidelines for fully vaccinated travelers:
You don’t need to get tested before leaving the US (unless your destination requires it).
You do need to show documentation of a negative Covid-19 test result or full recovery from Covid-19 before re-entering the US.
You should get tested 3-5 after returning from international travel.
You don’t need to self-quarantine upon returning to the US from international travel.
If you’ve been exposed to someone who has Covid-19, you don’t need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms. But, if you live in a group setting, like a correctional facility, you should practice social distancing and other precautions for two weeks before getting tested.
Precautions You Should Still Be Taking
There’s no doubt about it—getting vaccinated is a huge step in our return to a new normal. But as exciting as it may be, there are precautions you should still be taking to help protect yourself and others.
When gathering in public, with unvaccinated people from more than one other household, or when visiting an unvaccinated person at increased risk for severe illness (or a person who lives with someone who has an increased risk of severe illness) you should still:
Wear a mask
Stay six feet apart
Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces
In general, fully vaccinated individuals should still avoid medium or large-sized gatherings, like festivals, big weddings, or other large events.
What We’re Still Learning
Evidence is clear that the vaccine is effective at protecting you against Covid-19, especially when it comes to preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from the virus.
However, we’re still learning about the vaccine’s efficacy against newer, more contagious variants of Covid-19. Preliminary research shows that the vaccines may help protect against some variants, but be less effective against others.
What’s more, we know that preventive measures are just as important now as they were before the vaccines were approved for public use. Part of this is because we’re still learning about how well the vaccines help protect against spreading the virus.
Finally, we’re still gathering data on how long the vaccines will protect people. Some experts believe it’s likely that we will need seasonal or annual booster shots to ensure protection until the virus is eradicated.
One year after its emergence, we’ve hit an important milestone in the fight against Covid-19. But as we continue to learn more, it’s important that we all stay informed about what’s safe to do and which precautions we should still be taking to keep us and our communities safe in the long-term.