Whenever my healthcare worker friends are all, "OMG I'm getting vaccinated on Sunday," my brain is all, "OMG does that mean I can hug you soon?" I'm reasonably certain that reaction is not just me. But you probably also know that the COVID vaccine doesn't mean the pandemic is poof, gone. So before you dive into all the cuddles, check out what these doctors have to say about when you can start hanging out with your vaccinated friends.
When Can I Hang Out With My Vaccinated Friends?
"The vaccine is definitely a step towards getting back to normalcy, but there are still some unknowns as to whether or not you can still transmit the virus after getting vaccinated," says Alyssa Billingsley, PharmD, the director of strategic program development at healthcare service company GoodRx Research. "In other words, it might be possible for you to get infected from a vaccinated friend and spread the virus to others, or even develop a symptomatic case yourself." The benefit of the vaccine is that the person who receives it won't get sick, but until 75ish percent of people are vaccinated, COVID can still spread in the community (more on that below).
If you do plan on seeing each other more often after your pal gets vaccinated, make sure you're waiting until a few weeks after their second dose to make sure the vaccine is in full effect, so you don't risk getting them sick. And check in with your friend about their safety plan between dose one and two. "It is absolutely recommended that you continue to quarantine between doses," says Dr. Michael Green, M.D., a family medicine physician and the associate medical director of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. If any of you are sick or if the infection rates are high in your neighborhood, it's still best to have a virtual hang instead of something IRL to be on the safe side.
Wait, Why Can't I Hug My Vaccinated Friends Immediately?
It's not just about your friends' vaccine — it's about keeping the entire community safe. And that means that hugs will have to wait a little longer. "Since the vaccine trials looked for symptomatic COVID-19 cases, we still don’t fully know if you are protected against getting an asymptomatic case," Billingsley tells Bustle. "And while both vaccines have efficacy rates around 95%, they may not prevent all symptomatic cases, either."
Even though getting the vaccine dramatically reduces the risk of infection for your pals, it doesn't banish the virus from existence in the community. You'll still have to look after yourself and your other un-vaccinated loved ones in the meantime. "There is still the possibility that your vaccinated friend could get an asymptomatic or mild case of COVID and transmit it to you and/or your loved ones," Dr. Green says. "Remember just because they have it mild, doesn't mean you will have it mild."
"While being around other vaccinated people is probably on the lower end of the risk spectrum, you’ll still want to take precautions until it is recommended otherwise," Billingsley says.
Do We Still Have To Wear Masks Post-Vaccine?
It's not what anyone wants to hear, but yes, you have to keep masking up even after vaccination. "We are all looking forward to when we can stop wearing masks and social distancing without the worry of getting sick," Billingsley tells Bustle. "But at the same time, the vaccine isn’t a green light for us to jump into doing a bunch of high-risk activities right away. At least for now, you’ll still need to wear a mask even if you’ve been vaccinated." The virus will still be around, and as long as community rates remain high, preventing the spread will still involve masks. As for hugs and mask-free outings like in the Before Times, it depends on how vaccine rollouts go, but interactions may be more or less mask free by winter 2021.
That can be tough to swallow, but remember that you're not just getting vaccinated for yourself. "Getting this vaccination is not just about the individual," Dr. Green says. "It is about helping protect your family, friends, loved ones, and neighbors. It is about having your community function; letting us go to the movies, sports games, shows, concerts, eating at our local restaurants. It is about being able to go to work or on vacations. It is about letting grandparents see their grandchildren. It is a way to respect our public-facing workers and protect them from illness." Really, what better set of reasons do you need to stay safe?
Dr. Michael Green, M.D., family medicine physician, associate medical director of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care
Alyssa Billingsley, PharmD, director of strategic program development at GoodRx Research