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Can You Loosen Safety Precautions After Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Crowd of people wearing face masks.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna studies show that both vaccines are safe and effective.
  • Because the duration of immunity from COVID-19 is unknown, medical experts advise that the public remain vigilant after receiving the vaccine by exercising safety protocols and precautions. 
  • Until larger portions of the community are vaccinated, people should continue to avoid large social gatherings, wear masks, avoid nonessential travel, and practice thorough hand washing.  

If you were one of the selected few to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, you’re probably wondering how safe it is to be around others, especially those who have not yet been vaccinated.

Across the U.S., 5.9 million COVID-19 doses have been administered with millions more expected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Depending on the type of vaccine you were given—Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna—a level of immunity is not achieved until 7 to 14 days later after the first dose, with full immunity only achieved after two doses. However, despite the promising numbers of the vaccines' 95% effectiveness, there are still aspects of immunity and safety experts have yet to figure out.

What This Means For You

COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out in the U.S. As we wait for the majority of the population to become vaccinated, medical experts highly advise you to avoid large gatherings, wear a mask, and practice social distancing. 

Unknowns About Immunity

“The vaccine efficacy in both of these Phase 3 vaccine trials was nearly 95%, indicating high-level protection from these complications,” Steven A. Pergam, MD, MPH, medical director for infection prevention at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), tells Verywell. Pfizer and Moderna were able to extrapolate this data from thousands of participants.

Despite the quick development of these vaccines, medical experts say they underwent rigorous testing in clinical trials prior to gaining authorization. “Despite the rapid output of these trials, safety was a primary focus," Pergam says. "The studies show that these vaccines are not only safe but effective."

In order to achieve high immunity levels, patients must receive a second dose. “You get the vaccine, and then a month later, you get your second dose," Navya Mysore, MDCM, CCFP, a New York-based family physician and national program medical director for sexual and reproductive health at One Medical in New York City, tells Verywell. "The primary reason is that most patients wouldn’t necessarily reach the antibody amount."

Although these vaccines provide high efficacy rates, there are still unknowns about vaccine protection. “What isn’t known is if these vaccines can protect individuals from primary infection with the virus,” Pergam says. With a 95% effective rate, 5% of individuals who receive the COVID-19 vaccines may still run the risk of being infected. 

In addition to protection uncertainty, Pergam adds that the duration of immunity is not clear. “Studies addressing long-term protection with these vaccines are ongoing and will help us answer if and when we need to be revaccinated,” Pergam says. 

Ongoing studies and testing will need to be conducted in order to better understand the long-term impact of the vaccine and the degree of immunity that the vaccines offer. According to John Hopkins Medicine, vaccine developers are working out ways to boost the effectiveness of the vaccines to provide longer immune protection.

Staying Safe Post Vaccination

Because the duration of immunity and infection protection is still being investigated, Pergam and Mysore advise the public to continue practicing all necessary safety precautions, until herd immunity is achieved. 

“Until vaccination rates in the communities are much higher, people who are vaccinated will need to continue to mask, social distance, and avoid large social gatherings,” Pergam says. Avoiding non-essential travel can help curb the spread and rate of transmission as well.

Safety precautions like masks and social distancing have been proven to limit transmission in communities. Continuing to practice these precautions will work to keep everyone safe. “We don’t know if they [the vaccines] prevent transmission from person to person so continuing steps to prevent transmission of the virus is key,” Pergam says. “Until larger portions of the community are vaccinated, we need to remain vigilant.” 

Because vaccination is going to happen in waves, practicing patience will be needed for the vaccine rollout. While there is still more information about the vaccine's impact that needs to be explored, medical experts know that “vaccines are crucial to moving us beyond this pandemic,” Pergam says. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC COVID data tracker. Updated January 7, 2020.

  2. John Hopkins Medicine. COVID-19 vaccine: what you need to know. Updated December 23, 2020.