En español | The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new guidelines that give fully vaccinated people the go-ahead to socialize — including with their grandchildren. And, in some cases, they can finally hug their family members without a mask.
The long-awaited guidelines apply to people who are fully vaccinated: that means two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after receiving one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Key points from the CDC's new guidance for vaccinated people include:
- They can visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors, without wearing masks or physically distancing.
- They should continue to practice prevention measures such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance when visiting people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease, as well as with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
- They should continue to avoid medium-size and large in-person gatherings.
- They should continue to follow CDC advice to delay travel, because “travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19.”
- They should continue to follow the CDC's infection-control guidelines, including wearing masks and social distancing, while in public.
Here's what to know about your risk of getting or transmitting COVID-19 after you've been vaccinated (and the reasoning behind the CDC's new guidelines).
1. Once you are vaccinated, you have virtually no risk of getting a serious case of COVID-19.
The three vaccines currently in use in the U.S. are 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. “Not even one person who got the vaccine [during trials] snuck through and got very sick,” says Monica Gandhi, M.D., a professor and infectious disease expert at University of California, San Francisco. “Not even one."
That means if you've gone through your full vaccine schedule — waiting two weeks after your second dose to allow your body time to build protection — you are more likely to get seriously ill from the regular flu than from COVID-19. “These vaccines are amazing,” Gandhi says. If you do get the virus, she adds, “it'll be a mild cold."
Some people are concerned that the vaccine won't protect them against new and more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, first identified in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa. While public health officials are concerned and are studying these strains closely, the vaccines being given in the U.S. appear to be remarkably effective against all variants, Gandhi says. The confusion about the issue may stem from the news that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was less effective at preventing more moderate COVID-19 infection in South Africa; even so, it was still able to prevent 100 percent of hospitalizations.
2. Even if you're vaccinated, you may infect someone who is unvaccinated.
This is where the waters get muddy. There is a chance that even if you have been vaccinated, you could be an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus and infect someone who is unvaccinated.
But the CDC now says “a growing body of evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others.” A recent preliminary study from Oxford University, codeveloper of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (authorized for emergency use in the U.K.), found that it cut the risk of transmission by about two-thirds. “We don't know exactly how much the reduction in transmission will be [if a fully vaccinated person is infected with COVID-19],” says Aaron Richterman, M.D., a fellow in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, “but it is likely to be large, based on the available data.”
The uncertainty is why the CDC suggests that vaccinated people avoid visiting an unvaccinated person who's at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
3. If both you and your loved one are vaccinated, your risk of infecting each other is near zero.
According to the CDC's new guidance, fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or maintaining a physical distance.
In general, says Richterman, two vaccinated people together is “going to be about as safe as you can get.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect new guidelines from the CDC.
Christina Ianzito is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who joined AARP in 2010. She's the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.