Many grandparents have gone the entire pandemic without hugging their grandchildren. Before you visit anyone who has received the COVID-19 vaccine, it's important to consider these facts and guidelines from the CDC.

By Nicole Harris
Updated March 09, 2021
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An image of a woman visiting her grandmother through a window.
Credit: Getty Images.

After months of anticipation, COVID-19 vaccines are finally being distributed across the country. Two of the approved vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) require two doses, and they're about 94 percent effective against the coronavirus. The Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is about 72 percent effective in America. But is it finally safe to visit Grandma, Grandpa, and other high-risk relatives after they get vaccinated? 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 "with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing."

Vaccinated individuals can also visit unvaccinated people from a single household without masks or distancing, as long as everyone has low risk for severe COVID-19 complications. For example, according to the CDC, "fully vaccinated grandparents can visit indoors with their unvaccinated healthy daughter and her healthy children without wearing masks or physical distancing, provided none of the unvaccinated family members are at risk of severe COVID-19."

That said, if any unvaccinated individual has a high risk of COVID-19 complications, it's vital to follow protocols for face masks and social distancing. "For example, if a fully vaccinated individual visits with an unvaccinated friend who is seventy years old and therefore at risk of severe disease,  the visit should take place outdoors, wearing well-fitted masks, and maintaining physical distance (at least 6 feet)," says the CDC. You should also follow these safety protocols whenever you're visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households.

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. The first dose gives 50 percent protection against COVID-19, while the second dose raises the effectiveness to about 94 or 95 percent. This leaves a 5-6 percent chance that someone will still be susceptible to COVID-19 after vaccination, says Dr. Kenkare. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, on the other hand, is about 72 percent effective in America—although it has been shown to decrease the risk of severe illness and death.

It's important 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.

We don't know how long immunity lasts.

At this stage, experts don't know 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. It will depend on two factors: the duration of immune response and changes in the virus over time. "Influenza has a yearly alteration, so they change the flu vaccine components each year. We don't know if COVID will do the same thing," says Dr. Olivero.

That said, research indicates that the current vaccines are effective for at least 6 to 12 months, adds Sandra Adams, PhD,  Virologist and Professor of Biology at Montclair State University. We'll likely get a better grasp of vaccine immunity in the coming months, and we'll know whether the vaccine will ward off new strains of COVID-19 that are popping up around the world.

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, but it's too early to make a definite conclusion about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Why is this important for families? "There are no vaccines currently available for children under the age of 16," says Dr. Adams. "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." In other words, your kids could possibly contract the coronavirus from vaccinated family members.

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