Is It Safe to See Family After Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?
After months of anticipation, COVID-19 vaccines are finally being distributed across the country. But is it finally safe to visit Grandma, Grandpa, and other high-risk relatives after they get vaccinated, especially with the reports of breakthrough cases? Keep reading for the latest guidelines and important considerations.
CDC Guidelines for Fully Vaccinated Family Members
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed their guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals (someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, and two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). The organization says fully vaccinated people can gather without masks or social distancing indoors in public if you're in an area without substantial or high transmission.
"You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated," according to the CDC.
Fully vaccinated people should also mask up if they've tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 10 days, if they're experiencing symptoms, or if it's required by law or regulation.
Unvaccinated people should still follow all recommended COVID-19 safety precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded indoor spaces without proper ventilation.
Important Considerations for Visiting Vaccinated Relatives
Despite these updated CDC grandparent and relative guidelines, there's still so much about COVID we're uncertain about, says Jeannie Kenkare, D.O., FAAFP, chief medical officer of PhysicianOne Urgent Care. We spoke with experts about important factors to consider before visiting vaccinated family members.
The vaccine is highly effective, but it's not foolproof.
Both Pfizer and Moderna require two doses, while Johnson & Johnson is a single-dose shot. All available vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. That said, breakthrough cases are possible as immunity wanes over time, especially with the contagious Delta variant spreading across the country. And while most breakthrough cases are mild or asymptotic, severe illness can happen on rare occasions.
Make sure to keep these facts in mind when mulling over questions like "Can I hug my grandchildren after the vaccine?" or "Can I visit my grandparents?" You simply don't know whether your relatives will still be susceptible to COVID-19 after vaccination.
Vaccine immunity decreases over time.
At this stage, experts are researching how long you're immune to COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, says Rosemary Olivero, M.D., head of the pediatric infectious disease program at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. They've found that effectiveness does tend to decrease over time, which is why U.S. health officials are recommending booster shots six months after vaccination with Pfizer and Moderna, and two months after vaccination with Johnson & Johnson.
Experts don't know whether people can still spread COVID-19 after getting vaccinated.
The vaccines are designed to protect vaccinated individuals from getting sick. Clinical trials didn't test whether they could still spread SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, says Dr. Olivero. Vaccines usually prevent transmission, and while early data indicates the COVID-19 vaccine might do the same, experts still aren't 100 percent sure of the specifics. Indeed, it seems that the Delta variant could still be transmitted by vaccinated individuals.
Why is this important for families? There are no vaccines currently available for children under the age of 5. "Although children have not been shown to get as sick from COVID-19, it is still possible for them to catch the virus and unknowingly spread it," says Sandra Adams, PhD, Virologist and Professor of Biology at Montclair State University. In other words, your kids could possibly contract the coronavirus from vaccinated family members, although the risk is minimal.
The Bottom Line
Given the CDC's latest guideline, it's probably safe for vaccinated people to visit (and hug!) their family members, but make sure to follow COVID-19 trends and take recommended precautions.