Summing Up the CDC’s First Guidelines for Vaccinated Americans

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP
March 11, 2021
6 min

On March 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first set of “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” These guidelines are a critical first step toward normalizing activities for Americans. Although they will likely be updated over time as more and more individuals receive the vaccination, we must still recognize the importance of wearing masks and social distancing in many situations. Yes, even for those who are vaccinated.

With vaccination numbers climbing, some states have chosen to loosen restrictions on public gatherings. This action may be premature. The CDC early guidance for vaccinated Americans offers a few, relatively small exceptions, but also reiterates the precautions vaccinated people still need to take. Here are the big takeaways from the new CDC guidance.

Why Caution is Still Needed

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after taking the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. If it is not two weeks after your final dose, you are still not considered fully vaccinated.

In addition, there’s some much-needed clarity on how the vaccine actually protects you. We know the vaccine protects you against the COVID-19 disease itself, however, you can still get the virus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease. If exposed, you likely will be asymptomatic or only have mild cold-like symptoms. But you may still be able to spread the virus to others. And if those people do not have immunity to COVID-19, they could get the disease as well. That’s why these guidelines, while reducing some restrictions for certain individuals, are still limited in certain aspects.

What You Can Do Safely Without Restrictions

Research has found that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the disease than others. So far, scientists and medical professionals are confident that’s also the case for the COVID-19 vaccines. But the science and data are still playing out. In the meantime, the CDC is comfortable with limiting a few restrictions for some. 

If you are fully vaccinated, you now can:

  • Visit with others who are fully vaccinated in an indoor setting, without a mask or physical distancing.
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Avoid quarantine or testing after a known exposure if you are asymptomatic.

What Precautions You Still Should Take

If you are fully vaccinated, going out in public still carries risk, primarily to unvaccinated or high-risk unvaccinated people. While you may be protected from the COVID-19 disease by the vaccine, you still could have the virus and spread it to others who might be vulnerable. 

Because of this, it is suggested you still take the following precautions:

  • When you are out in public spaces with people you don’t know, you should still wear a well-fitted mask and physically distance.
  • If you visit with others who you know are unvaccinated and at increased risk because of an underlying condition, you should still distance and wear a mask as well.
  • If there are unvaccinated people from multiple households in a place or indoor environment, you should still wear a mask and distance.
  • Avoid medium and large gatherings. Again, it’s not a case of you, the vaccinated person, getting sick. But rather the potential to spread the virus to someone you may or may not know who may be unvaccinated or vulnerable in some other way.

The CDC also recommends workplace and travel safety requirements still be adhered to. It’s still good practice to ask people before entering an establishment, a home, or workplace, what the safety protocols are inside and to follow them in order to protect others. And if you have COVID-19 symptoms, even if you’re vaccinated, you will need to isolate, quarantine, and be tested.

The Good News About the Guidelines

While caution is still needed, the relaxing of some restrictions provides a mental health benefit for many Americans. You or a loved one may have experienced depression or anxiety caused by increased isolation over the course of the past year. In many ways, just knowing that there is even modest loosening of restrictions can feel like a relief.

The guidelines also represent a sign of initial success for the vaccine roll-out, which can only improve vaccine acceptance, the CDC noted. More public buy-in of the vaccine helps us all.

Again, these initial guidelines are an important first step towards ending the pandemic and getting back to that “normal” that has eluded us for the past year. But while it provides a psychological boost to many, we still, as vaccinated Americans, need to keep the safety of others top of mind and make decisions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP

As Carbon Health’s Chief Innovation Officer, Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP, guides clinical innovation through product development, service expansion, and partnerships with transformative companies working to improve the healthcare ecosystem. He is an emergency medicine physician, a former high school teacher, and a reformed academic researcher. Caesar co-founded Direct Urgent Care to deliver technology-enabled urgent care throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has practiced at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the University Hospital of Columbia, and Weill Cornell Medicine. In his spare time, Caesar advises healthcare startups, cheers on the Warriors, tries various HIIT workouts, and daydreams about what the future of health will look like.