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What can I do after I get my COVID-19 vaccine?

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves from the virus. However, Richard Martinello, MD, Medical Director of Infection Prevention for Yale New Haven Health says we should continue to follow other prevention protocols like wearing a mask in public spaces and social distancing, to keep ourselves and other safe.

“If you are fully vaccinated, it is not a passport that then allows us to disregard public health guidance,” Dr. Martinello said. “We have a personal responsibility not only to protect our own health, but also to protect the health of others around us.”

Dr. Martinello answered some frequently asked questions about what is safe after vaccination.

Do I still need to wear a mask in public?

The available vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson reduce your risk of becoming infected and help protect against severe disease and death. But these vaccines aren’t perfect. There is still a small chance that you can get sick after vaccination. 

With the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, the CDC recommends everyone wear a mask in areas with high rates of transmission, regardless of their vaccination status. 

Can I see other vaccinated people without a mask?

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask indoors if they are in an area with high rates of transmission. Remember, there is still a small chance you can get COVID-19 even after vaccination. If you do develop signs of sickness, get tested and avoid going to work and school.

It is also important to remember children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination right now. If fully vaccinated family members from different households choose to gather indoors without masks, that gathering should not include any kids who are part of those households.

Can I hug family members?

Vaccination may be the tipping point for families in deciding whether to see loved ones outside their household. If fully vaccinated grandparents want to see and hug their grandkids, they need to understand that it is not a completely risk-free decision.

Can I go to a restaurant?

Any indoor activity is associated with some risk as well. Grocery stores are safer because you can move around inside the store. If someone gets too close and you don’t feel comfortable, you can move in another direction.

It’s harder to maintain a safe distance inside a restaurant. The good news is that as it warms up, it will be easier to dine outdoors, allowing for better airflow.

Can I go to the gym?

Indoor gyms are concerning, even if you are fully vaccinated because people are breathing heavily while they work out. It’s safer to exercise outdoors where people can space out. Going for a walk, run or hike are some good options.

Can I go on a trip?

The latest recommendations from the CDC state fully vaccinated individuals do not need to be tested for COVID-19 before or after they travel, unless their destination requires it. The CDC also finds fully vaccinated people also do not need to self-quarantine.

As with any activity, you want to weigh your risks. If you plan on flying, check your airline’s rules. Do they allow spacing between passengers? Are people required to wear masks? You also need to think about how you plan to travel to and from the airport, since that needs to be part of the equation.

When will life return to normal?

We will likely be going back to a “new normal” in the coming months. Of course, we hope COVID-19 infection rates continue to go down. However, the new COVID-19 variants could lead to a rise in cases. We could also see a wave of other respiratory viruses in the fall when kids return to class.

As a society, we need to be flexible. If we get to a place where there are few COVID-19 cases, we can forgo masks. If there is another surge, we need to be ready.

This past year has taught us all a lot about public health and safety. We did not see the typical spike in flu cases this year, probably because mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing have become a part of everyday life. Moving forward, we may see more people making that decision to wear a mask in public spaces, especially during flu season. While wearing a mask is a little inconvenient, we have learned that it’s not that hard to do.