But with a large portion of the population still ineligible for vaccination, and uncertainty around whether vaccinated people can spread the disease, many immunized Americans are wondering if it is safe to gather with friends and family, and when they can live a pre-pandemic lifestyle.
According to Yahoo News medical contributor Dr. Kavita Patel, until we reach herd immunity — which experts estimate is when 70 to 80 percent of the population has immunity to the virus either because of the vaccine or through infection — COVID-19 will still pose a substantial risk.
“A lot of people are going to be in exactly that situation,” said Patel, “where their parents or grandparents might be vaccinated and they had their two doses and it’s been at least a couple of weeks since their second dose, so we think they’re at their full immunity, but you might not be vaccinated or your kids are not vaccinated yet. And so you still have a risk of both getting and giving the virus. So I think anybody who’s considering visiting their parents or grandparents, you really need to think about all the risk factors.”
So far, mRNA COVID-19 vaccines — such as those produced by Pfizer and Moderna — have proved to be highly effective at preventing severe and symptomatic COVID-19, but Patel said there is still limited information on how much the vaccines might reduce transmission and how long their protection lasts.
“We know that being vaccinated means you’re less likely to get really sick or go to the hospital or die, which is very important. We still don’t know if it will be enough to be vaccinated to prevent you from giving the virus to someone else,” she said.
For those who have been fully vaccinated, Patel recommends continuing to follow current CDC guidelines, which include wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands often.
The updated guidance follows the release of a that tested various masks in a lab setting using dummies and found that exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreased by about 95 percent when both dummies wore tightly fitted masks. The face coverings tested included a cloth face mask over a “medical procedure mask,” like a surgical mask, and a surgical mask with knotted ear loops and tucked-in sides.
Another to the CDC guidance this week: According to the agency, people who have been fully vaccinated don’t have to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to the virus — as long as they have received both doses of the vaccine, at least two weeks have passed since the second shot and they have remained asymptomatic after a COVID-19 exposure.
The guidance says that “although the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from vaccinated persons to others is still uncertain, vaccination has been demonstrated to prevent symptomatic COVID-19; symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission is thought to have a greater role in transmission than purely asymptomatic transmission.”
Finally, Patel said the mental health effect of not touching or being able to be near a loved one is an important factor to take into consideration when deciding whether to see friends and family.
“I’ve had some patients who have said, ‘I’m not going to live another couple of years. I want to take this time to see my family.’ Now, that should be a reason to consider doing as much as possible to protect yourselves, but acknowledging mutually that there are risks involved and then deciding how to take those risks as safely as possible,” she said.