What does COVID-19 vaccination mean for our social lives?

vaccination and social lives_large
Editor’s note: As what we know about COVID-19 evolves, so could the information in this story. Find our most recent COVID-19 blog posts here, and learn the latest in COVID-19 prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now that more people are getting vaccinated for COVID-19, many are wondering when they can get back to their normal social lives. Unfortunately, a safe return to “normal” life won’t happen as quickly as we’d like. There are some considerations to make when you’re weighing risk to social activities.

First, let’s define what it means to be fully vaccinated:
Both of the current vaccines available under the FDA’s emergency use authorization (the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines) will reach their maximum immunity protection from moderate to severe disease 14 days after the second dose. Both doses are required for this protection, and preliminary data shows that their efficacy is 94-95%—very effective.

Now, let’s talk about what is and isn’t safe after vaccination:

Can I drop any COVID-19 safety practices once I’m fully vaccinated?

It’s important to keep in mind that, while the COVID-19 vaccine will offer protection for its recipient two weeks after the second dose, we all must continue following all public health recommendations for the sake of others. 

If you’re fully vaccinated, you may be protected from symptomatic COVID-19, but you could still potentially spread the virus to others, including those who haven’t been vaccinated yet.

Once I’m vaccinated, is it safe to see some others outside my household in person?

There’s always some risk to socializing in person with anyone outside of your immediate household, though some scenarios hold more risk than others. Let’s look at different situations:

Lowest risk for meeting 
You and those you’re meeting with are…
- all fully vaccinated AND
- have isolated (had contact only with their own household) for 14 days prior to meeting

There is a relatively low risk of anyone in this scenario spreading COVID-19. Ideally, you would also isolate from any new contacts for two weeks after this encounter—if you were to pick up COVID-19 from this meeting, isolating afterward would help prevent you from asymptomatically spreading COVID-19 to anyone else.

Some risk
You and those you’re meeting with are…
- all fully vaccinated AND
- have NOT isolated for 14 days prior to meeting

In this scenario, there will be a higher degree of risk that either of you may carry COVID-19 but be asymptomatic, potentially spreading the virus to one another as well as to any other contacts you may have after the meeting.

More risk
If you’re fully vaccinated and others you’re meeting with are not (or vice versa), then again, there is still a risk that one of you could transmit the virus asymptomatically to another person. Ideally, everyone involved would isolate for two weeks prior to meeting. 

Riskier than any of these situations, of course, is meeting when no one has been vaccinated yet. To help determine safest practices in that scenario, please check out the blog post linked here.

It’s still very important to remember that all of these situations will have varying degrees of risk, just as they did before vaccination became a factor, so you should still follow public health recommendations.

When CAN I drop COVID-19 precautions after being fully vaccinated?

For now, even if you’re vaccinated, you need to continue staying at least six feet from others outside your household, wearing a face mask in public and around others outside your household, and washing your hands regularly. 

Before any of us can drop public health recommendations, our population needs to reach “herd immunity”—that stage when the prevalence of COVID-19 is significantly reduced and the likelihood of virus spread decreases. The scientific community anticipates this will happen after the majority of our population has been vaccinated.

Once that happens, we can start getting back to “normal.” Getting vaccinated is an important step toward that goal.

Shalina Nair is a physician in The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Family and Community Medicine and an associate professor in the Ohio State College of Medicine.