When Can I Shake Hands and Resume Greetings After Being Fully Vaccinated?

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Key Takeaways

  • Currently, it’s not recommended that you greet people with a handshake, hug, or kiss, even if you're fully vaccinated.
  • Experts say we may need to reach herd immunity before these can be considered safe again.

The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. continues to increase, bringing with it a hope that we may soon return to pre-pandemic activities and normalcy.

If you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s understandable to wonder when you can do everyday habits again, like shaking hands or giving someone a kiss on the cheek. The answer is a little more complicated than you’d think.

When Are You Fully Vaccinated?

You are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when you meet one of the following criteria:

  • It has been two weeks after your second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines
  • It has been two weeks since you received your single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot

If it’s been less than two weeks since your one-dose vaccine, or if you still need to get your second dose of a two-dose vaccine, you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

CDC Greeting Guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 “can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

However, there are caveats. The CDC recommends you keep following precautions in public places, like wearing a mask, staying six feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until more data is available.

The CDC also recommends that people do not shake hands and instead suggests using “other non-contact methods of greeting.”

What This Means For You

Health officials do not recommend shaking hands, hugging, or kissing someone from outside your household, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated. These recommendations will likely change once we've reached herd immunity. But once you've been fully vaccinated, you have to determine the risks you are comfortable taking.

Evaluating Risk

While the CDC points out that COVID-19 vaccines are “effective” at preventing the virus, particularly against severe illness and death, they also note that researchers are still learning how effective the vaccines are against variants of the virus.

In public or when you’re greeting someone at work, it’s best to continue to avoid shaking hands, Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell. “People should be practicing social distancing, so obviously to shake someone's hand you need to be closer than six feet,” he says. The same is true for hugs and kisses on the cheek given to people outside your household.

Richard Watkins, MD

People need to make their own decisions about how much risk they are willing to take.

— Richard Watkins, MD

"We need to be cognizant that not everyone is vaccinated,” Isabel Valdez, PA-C, assistant professor of internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, tells Verywell.

If both you and the person you’re greeting are vaccinated, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is “probably low, but not zero,” Watkins says. “People need to make their own decisions about how much risk they are willing to take."

A growing body of evidence suggests that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to have asymptomatic infections and may be less likely to spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to others. But the investigation is ongoing.

The CDC also notes that, while vaccines against COVID-19 are effective, there is still a risk of getting infected as long as the virus continues to circulate in the community. 

Aiming for Herd Immunity

But experts expect that will change over time. Handshakes, kisses, and hugs will likely be considered safe again “after everyone is vaccinated and society reaches herd immunity,” Watkins says. When, exactly, that will happen, is unclear.

What Is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity occurs when a population is immune from an infectious disease either through vaccination or natural infection.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in a mid-March hearing that young children and teens need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the country reaches herd immunity. “We don’t really know what that magical point of herd immunity is, but we do know that if we get the overwhelming population vaccinated, we’re going to be in good shape,” he said. “We ultimately would like to get, and have to get, children into that mix.” 

Experts say our previous norms of greeting someone with a handshake or hug may even go away entirely or be modified, even after the pandemic is over. “It is possible that handshakes will go the way of antiquated human habits like spitting in the street, which stopped during the 1918 influenza pandemic,” Watkins says. 

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.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in number of COVID-19 vaccinations in the US.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you’ve been fully vaccinated: how to protect yourself and others.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keeping the workplace safe.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Science brief: background rationale and evidence for public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

  5. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19.

  6. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Examining our COVID-19 response: an update from federal officials.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.