CDC Issues First Guidelines for Life after a COVID-19 Vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC has issued its first set of guidelines on activities people can resume after completing their COVID-19 vaccinations. 
  • The guidelines OK small indoor gatherings among people who have been vaccinated without the need for masks or social distancing. 
  • It is also OK for unvaccinated people from one other household to be in attendance if they are not at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • The CDC continues to recommend avoiding non-essential travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first set of guidelines for life after vaccination on March 8, 2021. The guidance details what’s safe and what’s not after you’ve been fully vaccinated—a major step in the right direction for returning to normalcy. 

The biggest news: The CDC says it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to gather indoors without masks. 

“As more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves,” said CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, at a White House reporter’s briefing

She was quick to address a question that’s top of mind for many families: “We would like to give the opportunity for vaccinated grandparents to visit their children and grandchildren who are healthy and who are local.” 

When Are You Considered Fully Vaccinated?

  • Two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer, Moderna)
  • Two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson)

What Can Fully Vaccinated People Do?

If you’ve been fully vaccinated and are two weeks past the date of your second shot, the CDC says:

  • You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks.
  • Exception: If any of those unvaccinated people have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 or closely interacts with someone who does, you should refrain from gathering.
  • If you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine or get tested unless you have symptoms.
  • Exception: If you live in a group setting and are exposed to someone who tested positive to COVID-19, you should quarantine for 14 days and get tested, regardless of whether or not you have symptoms.

What Precautions Should Fully Vaccinated People Continue to Take?

Walensky made clear in a statement that some precautions remain necessary. “Everyone—even those who are vaccinated—should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings,” she said. “As the science evolves and more people get vaccinated, we will continue to provide more guidance to help fully vaccinated people safely resume more activities.” 

  • Wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of distance from others when out in public AND when interacting with unvaccinated people from more than one other household.
  • Avoid medium and large gatherings.
  • Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if you experience them.
  • Follow guidance imposed by your workplace.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.

At the briefing, Walensky explained why the CDC had not yet changed its guidelines on travel.

“Every time that there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country,” she said. “We know that many of our variants have emerged from international places, and we know that the travel corridor is a place where people are mixing a lot. We are really trying to restrain travel at this current period of time, and we’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them.” 

What This Means For You

If you received your final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine over two weeks ago, the CDC says it’s safe for you to gather indoors in small groups without masks or social distancing.

The New Guidelines Do Not Completely Eliminate Your Risk of COVID-19

While health experts are applauding the cautiously-optimistic guidelines, they acknowledge we are not completely out of the woods yet. 

“[Following the new CDC guidelines] does not guarantee with 100% certainty that no one can get infected or transmit the disease to someone else—but we do know based on the evidence that the risks are much, much lower than they are in unvaccinated individuals,” Jeannie Kenkare, MD,  chief medical officer of Connecticut-based PhysicianOne Urgent Care, and a clinical instructor at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Verywell. “There is a small percent of vaccinated people who will still get COVID-19 and can still transmit COVID-19, so it's important for people to continue to understand that risk and manage their activities based on those risks.” 

Walensky noted more research is needed to learn about transmission risk after vaccination.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.