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Posted By: Mary Knudtson, DNSc, NP, FAAN
February 23, 2021
Patients are beginning to ask what they can safely do after they have received both doses of the currently approved COVID vaccines. What do the experts and the data say?
First, both of the currently approved vaccines are about 95% effective after receiving the second dose. Neither are 100% effective at preventing infection, and there is a 5% chance you can still become infected with SARS-CoV-2 even after receiving both doses of the vaccine.
Second, it takes several weeks after the second dose for the immune system to develop high enough levels of virus-neutralizing antibodies to protect you from infection if you have been exposed.
Third, viruses mutate. The COVID virus is no exception; there are many variants of it already circulating in the United States.
Dr Anthony Fauci and other medical experts are warning that antibodies from a prior case of COVID-19 will not necessarily protect against becoming infected with a variant from South Africa. There is also a possibility that the currently available vaccines will not fully protect against new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. An important research priority is to determine which vaccines are effective at neutralizing different variants of the virus. There are also no conclusive data on how effective the currently available vaccines are at preventing silent transmission of the virus to others; this is currently under investigation. Lastly, there are not enough data on how long vaccine-based immunity will last and whether a booster dose or additional vaccination will be recommended in the future.
All that being said, the current recommendation is to advise patients to continue to wear a mask until more is known about how long vaccine protection lasts and against which variants. As far as seeing family and friends, that depends on everyone's vaccine status. It is likely safe to see others who were also vaccinated, but only after everyone gets both doses and waits a few weeks for antibodies to build up. If the visit is indoors, there will still be a higher level of risk than if it is outdoors—although the risk is significantly less than if you have not been vaccinated, it is not zero.
Until we have more data, those who have been vaccinated should continue to wear a mask, avoid indoor gatherings with others if possible, and quarantine if exposed to a positive case.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html. Accessed February 23, 2021.