Until now, the main benefit of getting vaccinated was being much less likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19. And while continuing to be alive remains a powerful incentive, new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mix in some additional perks for vaccinated people.
Most notably, the guidelines say those who have been vaccinated and waited two weeks after their final dose can hang out indoors with each other unmasked. They can also visit with people from a single household who haven’t been vaccinated without distancing or wearing masks, as long as everyone is healthy and at low-risk for poor outcomes with COVID-19.
“For example, 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,” the CDC guidelines specify. The new guidance was originally supposed to be released last week.
Earlier advice from the CDC and other epidemiologists had instructed vaccine recipients to act much as they would before, since the full extent to which vaccines protect against transmission of COVID-19 is still unknown. But one early study from Israel—involving nearly 600,000 takers--suggests that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine reduce coronavirus spread by 92%.
The CDC says, at this point, the benefits of people becoming less socially isolated may outweigh the small risk of transmission in certain situations. Plus, the health agency says, “taking steps towards relaxing certain measures for vaccinated persons may help improve COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and uptake.”
The centers still recommend avoiding unnecessary travel. But they say people who have been fully vaccinated do not have to get tested or quarantine following exposure to someone with COVID-19 unless they are experiencing symptoms. In that scenario, they recommend people closely monitor their own symptoms for two weeks.
Last week, the New York State Department of Health updated its travel advisory in light of these guidelines. New York previously required anyone returning to or visiting the state to get tested before arriving, quarantine for three days upon arrival, and then get tested again. Now, those rules will not apply to people who have been fully vaccinated within the past 90 days and are traveling to New York from other parts of the country, though they will still affect those voyaging internationally, regardless of vaccination status.
Of course, those who have been vaccinated can’t completely throw caution to the wind. The CDC says vaccine recipients should continue to take precautions such as wearing a mask and distancing when in public or when visiting with people from multiple households or people who are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19. And parties and raves (really any medium or large gathering) are still out of the question. There are still a few reasons to look forward to herd immunity.
The CDC says this guidance will evolve as new research on the vaccines emerge, the level of coronavirus transmission changes, and more people get vaccinated.