COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Once Vaccinated Can We Resume Our Pre-COVID Lives?

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Dr. Amira Roess is a professor of Global and Community Health at George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services. She is an epidemiologist with expertise in Coronaviruses and interventions to reduce the transmission and impact of infectious diseases. Roess shares current information on the COVID-19 vaccine and answers questions about whether it’s safe to resume our pre-COVID lives.

How effective are the mRNA vaccines today?

The efficacy of the mRNA vaccines currently in use is reported as over 90%. This makes them among the most efficacious vaccines we have.

Family Hiking Photo Provided by Alberto Casetta via Unsplash
Even after being vaccinated, Roess recommends taking precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing, and gathering outdoors. (Photo Provided by Alberto Casetta via Unsplash)

Does being vaccinated mean we can return to our pre-COVID activities immediately or over time?

Remember that vaccines don't work immediately. You need to give your body about 2 weeks after each dose for a strong enough immune response to occur. The data are very promising and suggest that even after just your first dose you may have some immunity. We expect that about 2 weeks after your second dose you may have very high protection. 

Because we are still seeing a lot of community transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and because there are new strains circulating that we are quickly learning about we do recommend that you continue to be vigilant. Wear masks and practice social distancing. This is especially critical during this time when most people are still not yet vaccinated. At some point hopefully and then not too distant future we hope that a large enough proportion of our population will be vaccinated and then we'll be able to start to return to life as it was pre-pandemic. 

What are the risks of traveling once vaccinated?

Certainly, being vaccinated will give you peace of mind when you travel. The vaccine is reported to be very effective against many of the strains that we know are circulating. And it will likely be partially effective against newer strains as they emerge. That is great news. Now if you're going someplace where a smaller percentage of the population may not be vaccinated, it's a good idea to wear those masks and practice social distancing to give yourself an added layer of protection and reduce even further the chances of your getting sick while traveling. All indications are that in the not-so-distant future we will have a large enough percentage of our population vaccinated that life will return to the way it was pre-pandemic.

What is the timeline for children getting vaccinated? Can kids safely travel?

There are ongoing clinical trials just starting and planned to assess the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine candidates in children. The hope is that enough data will be available by the middle of the summer and that vaccination in some pediatric populations will begin later this year. 

What guidance do you have for those who might be considering gatherings where a mix of those who are vaccinated and those who are not? Can grandparents, higher-risk individuals, healthcare or frontline workers who have been vaccinated safely gather with friends or family members who are not yet vaccinated?

While we wait for a larger percentage of the population to get vaccinated it's a good idea to continue to be vigilant. We continue to recommend protecting grandparents and higher risk individuals because we know that they are at a much greater risk of having severe COVID-19 illness. Until more of us are vaccinated outdoor gatherings are recommended. Make sure that you have plenty of space to facilitate social distancing and make sure that you have masks on hand. 

What guidance do you have for those who long for a return to pre-COVID life, travel, see friends etc?

I'm optimistic as we head into the warmer months because we have seen a significant decrease in cases, vaccination programs have started, death rates from the virus are decreasing, and we are learning a lot very quickly about the virus.

The warmer months also mean a lot more time spent outdoors in nature, and more socializing with friends and family. Travel could be done safely provided that you avoid crowds and that you can maintain social distance and wear your masks. In general, for the immediate future, it's a good idea to wear masks and social distance until more of us get vaccinated. We've made remarkable progress. In less than a year we've seen significant decreases in COVID-19 mortality rates, and the development of multiple highly efficacious vaccines.