Editor’s Note: As vaccine appointments become widely available across the country and we continue to learn more about the vaccine, please regularly check the latest CDC guidelines for the most up-to-date information and safety recommendations regarding COVID-19.
After a year of fear and uncertainty over COVID-19, good change is finally on the horizon. Now, the U.S. has three vaccines in circulation and more than 81 million Americans have already begun the inoculation process. But what does emerging from a pandemic look like, and when does ‘normal’ look like the ‘normal’ of yore? We took your most pressing questions about life post-vaccine and appealed to expert sources for the answers.
Q: Once I am fully vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask?
If we have learned anything this past year it’s that this pandemic is an ever-evolving situation. As scientists understand more about the virus and its vaccine, the official guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) adapt to better protect us. At this point, the CDC recommends the full precautions when out in public, including continued mask use and social distancing, even after adults receive their vaccines.
Until more is known and vaccination coverage increases, some prevention measures will continue to be necessary for all people, regardless of vaccination status.
It’s also important to note that being “fully vaccinated” has a very specific definition. According to the CDC, those who receive the 2-dose Pfizer or Moderna shot are not considered fully immunized until two weeks after their second dose. For others who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they will be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their single-dose shot.
“How long vaccine protection lasts and how much vaccines protect against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants are still under investigation,” the CDC said in a statement. “Until more is known and vaccination coverage increases, some prevention measures will continue to be necessary for all people, regardless of vaccination status.”
Q: Can I have people over in my house if everyone is vaccinated?
Yes. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated households can gather with others who are fully vaccinated, indoors and without masks or social distancing. Additionally, a fully vaccinated household can gather without safety precautions with one unvaccinated household at a time, provided no one is at high-risk for complications.
If you’re curious how children factor into these equations, Dr. Justin Zaghi, the medical director at Heal, offered this: “Families can definitely get together indoors unmasked as long as the adults are fully vaccinated, they are gathering with only one other household, and the unvaccinated kids are healthy and are not at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
Q: Can my kids hug their fully vaccinated grandparents again?
Dr. Zaghi gave an enthusiastic “absolutely,” with stipulations, of course. “For the most part, fully vaccinated grandparents can hug their grandchildren without isolating and without a face mask. All three COVID vaccines, including the Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J vaccines are highly efficacious at preventing illness from COVID and provide 100 percent protection against hospitalization and death related to COVID,” he said. “Therefore, fully vaccinated grandparents are not at significant risk of getting sick from being around unvaccinated grandchildren. However, if the grandchildren or others they are living with are not vaccinated and are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID, it would be prudent for them to get vaccinated ASAP if possible and to continue to socially distance themselves and wear face masks until then.”
Understanding these health benefits, as well the positive impact on quality of life, it is exciting to see [fully] vaccinated grandparents interact again with their children and grandchildren.
Dr. Kathleen Jordan, an Internal Medicine doctor and infectious disease specialist, emphasized how beneficial safely resuming contact with grandparents can be. “Humans benefit from other human contact—it’s linked both to longevity and quality of life. Loneliness and social isolation put us at risk for premature death from a variety of causes and, for older adults, social isolation increases dementia risk by 50 percent,” she said. “Understanding these health benefits, as well the positive impact on quality of life, it is exciting to see [fully] vaccinated grandparents interact again with their children and grandchildren.” Though she added that her answer changes if fully vaccinated grandparents are severely immunocompromised.
Q: If you are vaccinated, is it safe to travel?
No. At this time, the CDC does not recommend domestic nor international travel, even for those who are fully vaccinated, as doing so may further the spread of COVID-19. For updates on travel guidelines, including when restrictions will ease and what precautions to take if you must leave home, keep an eye on the CDC’s travel page.
Q: Will it be mandatory for my kid’s school teachers to be vaccinated?
Recently, President Biden said everyone who wants a vaccine should have one by May. But Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in an interview on Today said he did not think it should be mandatory for educators.
“I think what we’re seeing is the president taking a stand on ensuring that our educators are vaccinated so that we can safely reopen schools and address some of the concerns and fears that educators have expressed.”
He also said he expects 100 percent of schools will be open for in-person learning in the fall as vaccination efforts continue amid the pandemic.
Q: When will my children be vaccinated and how will it affect schools opening next year?
Between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, teenagers as young as 16 may soon be eligible for vaccination. However, clinical trials for younger children are still underway. Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Officer, shared that those 12 and younger would not be vaccinated until 2022 at the earliest.
“Children are not just small adults. The younger you get, the higher the odds are that things could be different,” pediatrician Dr. James Campbell said in a statement to AP News, explaining the critical importance of testing in the pediatric population.
In a recent interview with Today, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he expects schools to be 100 percent open for in-person learning by this fall, with a continued focus on getting kids back in school safely as soon as possible this spring.