Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first set of public recommendations for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Belvoir Hospital Chief of the Infectious Diseases, Lt. Cmdr. Derek Larson, said he’s encouraged that the CDC seems to be balancing the need for people to be together with how to do that safely.

According to the Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People, posted on its website, the CDC is still urging caution, but setting some activities that should present a reduced risk of infection or illness.

A key point is that ‘fully vaccinated’ is a status that takes time, and is not conferred immediately after the second injection of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or right after receiving the one-dose vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. “That requires time for the body to respond,” said Larson, noting that a robust immune response kicks in two weeks after the final injection.

In public spaces, the report states, “Fully vaccinated people should continue to protect themselves and others, including wearing a well-fitted mask, physical distancing (at least 6 feet), avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often, and following any applicable workplace or school guidance. Fully vaccinated people should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19, especially following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. If symptoms develop, all people – regardless of vaccination status – should isolate and be clinically evaluated for COVID-19.”

What’s Changed

If you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC has issued the following guidance:

• You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.

• You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

• If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.

“If two people are vaccinated there’s lower risk when they’re together,” Larson said. “They still recommend against medium and large-sized gatherings to prevent asymptomatic spread and furthering the pandemic,” adding that “Society needs a little bit of a break, and we need to stay safe, and that’s a tough balance.”

What Hasn’t Changed

For now, if you’ve been fully vaccinated:

• You should still take steps to protect yourself and others in many situations, like wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Take these precautions whenever you are:

• In public

• Gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household

• Visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person at increased risk

• You should still avoid medium or large-sized gatherings.

• You should still delay domestic and international travel. If you do travel, you’ll still need to follow CDC requirements and recommendations.

• You should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others.

• You will still need to follow guidance at your workplace.

What we know

The CDC summary states that “We know that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially severe illness and death, and that other prevention steps help stop the spread of COVID-19, and that these steps remain important, even as vaccines are being distributed.

What we’re still learning

This guidance may change as new data comes to light, as there are still several aspects that epidemiologists are still learning. That includes how effective the vaccines are against variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Early data show that vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others. The CDC also said it is unknown how well the vaccines keep people from spreading the disease, and will have better data as more people get vaccinated. Additionally, it is still unknown how long the vaccines can protect people.

For more information, read the full report of recommendations at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html