Sara W. of Sparks is 73 and received her two COVID-19 vaccines. She’d really like to spend some time with her school-age grandchildren, and, God forbid, hug them. Should she?
Mark and Anne B. of Reno, also in their 70s, have received both shots and would like to have dinner (gasp, indoors!) with another couple who also have completed the vaccine regimen. Should they?
Melinda M. of Reno, 36, is a health care worker who is more than two weeks past her second inoculation. She’d really like to hang out with friends who also have been vaccinated twice. Is that safe for the people involved and if they do get together, should they all wear masks anyhow?
The COVID-19 vaccines are not a magic bullet and the virus is so new it’s hard to get answers about the dos and don’ts of a post-vaccine existence. Nonetheless, there is some guidance about safety after shots, as presented in the question-and-answer format, below:
Should two fully-vaccinated people get together?
So far, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has remained mum on the subject. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN on Feb. 26 that two fully vaccinated people can gather individually with minimal risk. “You can start getting together as individual people, even though the risk is not zero, the risk becomes extremely low when you have both parties vaccinated,” Fauci told interviewer Chris Cuomo.
“My professional judgment is that when my daughter wants to come in here and she is doubly vaccinated, I’m going to have her over to the house, and I’m going to give her a big hug that I haven’t been able to do for a year,” Fauci said.
OK, two vaccinated people getting together may be relatively safe, but what about mingling larger groups?
The general consensus is that gatherings among people who are fully vaccinated still carries some level of risk. “I feel like a gathering of a small number of people where everyone is vaccinated is a much safer situation — much — than it was before we had vaccines,” Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Washington Post. “The only thing that people want to hear, though, is, ‘Is it 100 percent safe?’ And we don’t have proof of that yet.”
Can a person who has been fully vaccinated still catch the virus?
COVID-19 vaccinations are rated as 95% effective. That’s a great ratio, but it still means that about 1 out of 20 people who get inoculated may not have protection from getting the illness. However, the theory is that nearly all who do will present with milder symptoms than those that they would have had without getting the vaccine.
Can a vaccinated person still carry and transmit the disease to others?
The short answer is nobody knows. That’s why the CDC recommends that vaccinated people continue with precautions such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, avoiding enclosed spaces, physical distancing in public (and even around other people who have been vaccinated).
How long after the second shot does the maximum immunity kick in?
It typically takes a week after the second dose for The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s second dose to reach 95 percent efficacy. The Moderna’s vaccine gets to about 94% efficacy two weeks after the second shot.
How long does the vaccine immunity last?
That’s a question that can only be answered over the long term and the virus has been raging for a year. The CDC says that “experts are working to learn more about both natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity.”
Should people who have already had COVID-19 get inoculated?
Yes, says the CDC. That’s because no one knows how long natural immunity lasts once people recover from the illness. So far, it’s been rare that patients who have completely recovered from the virus have caught it again, but it has happened. CDC doctors also believe that getting vaccinated is a much safer way to build immunity than getting infected and surviving. The agency adds a caveat about being vaccinated. If a patient was treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, the person should wait 90 days before getting a vaccine.
Should people diagnosed with COVID-19 get the shots while they are ill?
No, according to the CDC. The agency advises that “people with COVID-19 who have symptoms should wait to be vaccinated until they have recovered from their illness and have met the criteria for discontinuing isolation; those without symptoms should also wait until they meet the criteria before getting vaccinated.” That guidance also applies to people who get COVID-19 before getting their second dose of vaccine.
I’m age-eligible and have signed up on Washoe County’s waiting list; what else can I do to try and get a vaccine?
The county this week began inoculating people who are age 65 or older, but there’s a long waiting list. Other options to get signed up for an appointment include: Renown Health’s My Chart, which doesn’t require a Renown health plan to register; Smith’s Food and Drug pharmacies which are vaccinating those age 65 and older; Walgreens pharmacies appointments can be made online; and Walmart/Sam’s Club locations also are scheduling appointments.
The slots fill up fast, but people who kept checking the websites this week said the pharmacies were a quicker way to get in line than the county option. It’s OK to get on multiple waiting lists – such as Washoe County’s and Renown’s – but once people have a set appointment, they should not make another one. It’s not necessary to arrange to be removed from a waiting list, but don’t respond to an invitation to make an appointment if you already have one scheduled elsewhere.