At this writing, health care organizations across the Commonwealth have administered more than 2.3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health. Of those recipients, nearly 1 million are on their way to being fully vaccinated—either by receiving the one-time Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine or by receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
In response to those growing numbers here and throughout the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines March 8 for people, in non‑healthcare and non-work settings, who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. These recommendations may change as circumstances warrant.
According to the CDC, you are fully vaccinated:
- Two weeks after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine
- Two weeks after receiving the J&J single-dose vaccine
“If it has been less than 2 weeks since your shot or if you still need to get your second dose, you are NOT fully protected,” says the agency.
Because You’ve Been Vaccinated
If you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC has suggested that gathering privately indoors, in small groups, with others who are also fully vaccinated, without wearing a mask, is reasonable.
And yes, you can hug them!
Getting together inside with unvaccinated people from one single additional household without masks is also suggested as possible (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together)—as long as nobody in the other household is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
People at increased risk for severe illness include, but are not limited to:
- The frail elderly
- People with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease
- People whose immune systems are suppressed, including those living with chronic illness, especially autoimmune disorders; organ transplant recipients; and cancer patients
In addition, unless you live in a group home or facility, you do not need to self-quarantine after contact with someone who has COVID-19—as long as you do not have symptoms.
Again, these suggestions only apply for non-healthcare settings.
Because Others Have Not
The combination of a vaccine and sunny spring weather makes it tempting to gather with even more people, but infectious diseases experts are still studying how well each of the vaccines prevents the spread of the virus.
And it is important to remember that most people have not had an opportunity to receive the vaccine yet. Therefore, the new CDC guidelines state that even if you are fully vaccinated, you should continue wearing a mask, avoid medium- or large-sized gatherings, avoid poorly ventilated spaces and maintain social distancing when you are:
- In public places
- With people from more than one household
- With someone at increased risk of severe illness or death from the virus
It is also recommended that you delay domestic and international travel.
Because We’re Still Learning
The COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, especially against severe illness and death, but exposure to the virus can still put you at risk. Watch for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick, and get tested as soon as you can.
Experts continue to evaluate two important factors:
- Whether and to what extent the vaccines protect against variants of the virus
- How long protection from the vaccines lasts
Not knowing those two things means we still have a lot to learn! So experts from the CDC, the Virginia Department of Health and Carilion Clinic’s Infectious Diseases Department urge everyone to continue taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Virginia is currently in Phase 1a/1b, which includes:
- Everyone age 65+
- People age 16-64 with underlying medical conditions
- Health care personnel
- Front-line essential workers
- Long-term care facility residents
- People in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps
This article was reviewed by Paul Skolnik, M.D., chair of Medicine at Carilion Clinic.