covid-19 vaccine

Fully Vaccinated? Here Is Exactly What You Can and Can't Do

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have put out new guidance about what activities fully vaccinated people can resume

File photo showing a close up of a female doctor holding a COVID-19 Vaccination record card.
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As more and more Americans become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, questions linger about what they can and cannot do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines on Monday detailing what precautions people do and don't need to take once they've been vaccinated.

Here is everything you need to know.

What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?

A person becomes fully vaccinated at least two weeks after their final dose of a coronavirus vaccine. For the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two doses, this means two weeks after the second dose. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one dose, this means two weeks after the first and only dose.

What can I do after being fully vaccinated?

While the new guidelines from the CDC might have been "fairly narrow in scope" according to NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar, they allow some freedom for people who have been fully vaccinated.

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The new guidelines say that fully vaccinated people can gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or social distancing.

Fully vaccinated people can also gather with unvaccinated people from one household, without masks or social distancing, provided that none of the unvaccinated people are at risk for severe COVID-19. If you do gather with high-risk, unvaccinated people, precautions like masking, gathering outside and keeping distance should still be maintained. If you gather with more than one unvaccinated household, the same mitigation methods should also be followed.

People who have been fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing when in public places.

"I think it gives us a cautious step forward and an emotional release in the sense that we really, truly are on the road out of this pandemic," Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the CDC, said on TODAY. "For elderly people who may be socially isolated, now they know that if they're fully vaccinated, they can get together with friends who are fully vaccinated. They can hug their grandchildren. My parents are both in their early 90s and I know for them ... It's a huge, huge emotional release and lift."

One area where the CDC is still cautious is travel: No new guidelines about traveling were released. NBC News medical contributor Dr. Kavita Patel said that choice likely has to do with worries about spreading coronavirus variants.

"This is an area where the CDC, as it traditionally has been, has been trying to take in risk," Patel said. "... The fact that they said nothing about travel, I think, (means) two things: One, it means we'll get some guidance soon, but it also tells me there's still some concern about people moving in populations, even if they're vaccinated, especially with the variants we're seeing around the country."

Besser said that since the rates of people vaccinated nationwide are still fairly low, people should avoid nonessential travel, especially as some states begin to remove their restrictions and mask mandates.

"The idea that states are telling people that they don't need to wear masks ... at a time where the situation is still very tenuous, that's very concerning," Besser said.

What about seeing people who can't be vaccinated yet?

The guidelines note that fully vaccinated people can see low-risk unvaccinated people in indoor gatherings without masking or distancing. If people are unvaccinated but are high-risk for severe COVID-19, precautions should still be taken.

Dr. Sten Vermund, a pediatrician and dean of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, said that this means that grandparents who are vaccinated can interact with grandchildren, even ones who are not yet eligible for vaccination, safely so long as those kids aren't considered high-risk.

"We're in great shape to reassure people who are vaccinated that their risk of disease is low, and their risk of serious disease is even lower," Vermund said. "If they are vaccinated ... having grandparents hug their grandkids is perfectly logical. That's the whole point of vaccinations."

For parents who are concerned their children could still spread the virus, Vermund offered reassurance.

"Schools have not been hotspots of transmission when the school districts or boards have made investments to physically distance students, enable mask use, enhance hygiene and food service safety and limit higher risk activities like contact sports," Vermund said. "That’s why a child going to a well-managed school is not considered to be high risk, in my view."

What if I'm exposed to COVID-19 after vaccination?

If you are fully vaccinated and have been exposed to COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine or get tested if you are asymptomatic. However, if you start showing coronavirus symptoms after an exposure to the virus, you should quarantine and get tested.

"You certainly need to get tested, if you become symptomatic, even if you've been vaccinated," Azar said. It is possible to contract COVID-19 even after being fully vaccinated, but vaccines are expected to seriously curb cases of moderate and severe coronavirus.

Can I transmit COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated?

Part of the reason the guidelines emphasize wearing a mask in public even after being vaccinated is because doctors are still unsure just how vaccination curbs the spread of the coronavirus. People who are fully vaccinated for the virus might still be able to carry the virus and spread it to unvaccinated people, but Besser said that public health experts are "much closer to getting an answer" on the topic.

"In addition to the guidelines that were put out yesterday, the CDC put out a science review, and in that science review, they review the evidence to that specific question," Besser explained. "What they say is that there are animal studies that show that vaccination reduces the amount of virus in your nose, reduces the ability to transmit, and there's real world studies as well, that show that some of these vaccines reduce the ability to cause a subject asymptomatic infection or any infection at all."

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