Although vaccination provides strong protection from severe diseases, you may want to conceal your symptoms in certain circumstances.
If you enthusiastically vaxxed up partly out of a desire to be social again, you wouldn’t be alone–catching up with friends in real life is one of the perks of COVID-19 vaccination.
But vaccination rates in the US have fallen short of expectations, and now the highly infectious Delta variant is fueling an increase in outbreaks, particularly in under-vaccinated areas of the country. At present, 83% of COVID sequences in the US are from the Delta variant, Rochelle Walensky MD, director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated at Tuesday’s Senate hearing.
What does the current situation mean for Sunday brunches, backyard barbeques, and other activities if you’re vaccinated, but your friends or family members are not? Do you think it’s still OK to hang out with friends?
Here’s what public health officials and experts in infectious disease and emergency medicine are saying about what’s safe and what precautions you may want to take.
Isn’t everyone vaccinated now?
Do not assume that everyone in your family has been vaccinated. By the CDC’s count, 161.5 million Americans have been “fully vaccinated.” This means they have either received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine or a second dose of the two-dose Pfizer/Moderna vaccine. At least two weeks have passed since the last vaccination. This gives their immune system time to mount a response.
It sounds like there are a lot of people. However, less than half of Americans (49%) are fully protected. This is if you include children under 12 years old who aren’t eligible for the vaccine. The rates of vaccination can vary greatly from one state or county to the next.
The bottom line is that millions of people continue to be unprotected, vulnerable, even young children.
I’m vaccinated. Can I go out with my unvaccinated friends?
The final answer will depend on your Health and the Health of those around you.
Paul A. Thottingal MD, a Seattle-based doctor and infectious disease leader at Kaiser Permanente, tells Health, “If you are fully vaccinated most interactions will be quite low-risk.” He says, “But it’s possible to learn about the vaccination status of others to help you think through how to make activities as low-risk for everyone.”
If you are spending time indoors, such as at a restaurant or bar, this may mean that you need to cover up. Dr. Thottingal says, “Outside in the open air I think you’re OK.”
Megan L. Ranney, MD, professor in emergency medicine at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, would advise caution.
She tells Health that if she were to spend time with unvaccinated friends, it would be outdoors or when they are masked. She isn’t afraid of getting a breakthrough infection, but she doesn’t want to (hypothetically speaking) transmit it to a child or parent who hasn’t been vaccinated.
William Schaffner, MD, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s professor of infectious disease, recalls having “very complicated conversations” with families that want to make small visits with elderly family members. For example, the family may have been cautious but not rigidly so. The children are under 12 years old, so they haven’t been vaccinated. “And I suggest you get together with your family to determine the ground rules that everyone is comfortable with before you go.”
He suggests that children learn how to protect grandma or grandpa by wearing masks and hugging grandparents around their waists when they visit.
Dr. Thottingal recommends that all household members wear masks if they have friends who have unvaccinated children. He says, “It’s easier for the children to be supported if everyone’s wearing masks without single them out.”
It may be sensible to take additional precautions in “hot spots,” where the virus spreads.
Dr. Schaffner explains that people assess their risk tolerance. “If you are in Vermont, your situation is very different than if it were in Tennessee.” According to the New York Times, 77% of Vermont’s 18 and older population are fully vaccinated compared with 48% in Tennessee.
After a recent rise in hospitalizations and cases, the Los Angeles County indoor mask mandate was reinstated. “Masking indoors must again become a normal practice by all, regardless of vaccination status, so that we can stop the trends and level of transmission we are currently seeing,” LA County Health Officer Muntu Davis, MD, said in a statement.
Remember, even if your jabs have been completed, you and your friends who aren’t vaccinated will still need to wear masks if they’re taking public transport or going through transportation hubs such as train stations and airports.
Mirella Salvatore MD, an infectious diseases specialist assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City, has another suggestion. If you meet up with someone who isn’t vaccinated, Mirella Salvatore suggests that you use the opportunity to discuss vaccination. She suggests that you understand their reasons for not getting vaccinated or share your own experience with the vaccine.
“We must think globally, not only for ourselves,” Dr. Salvatore says. But also for the greater community.
If I am vaccinated, do I have to wear a mask to be with my unvaccinated friends?
The CDC continues to reassure fully vaccinated people that it is OK to resume pre-pandemic activities, with a few notable exceptions because vaccines have proven very effective against severe diseases due to the COVID-19 virus and variants.
Dr. Schaffner told Health that vaccines are at their best 95% effective in keeping people out of the hospital. He says that vaccination reduces the chance of getting infected and reduces the likelihood of the disease being transmitted.
The COVID-19 vaccine trials were designed to assess the impact of vaccines on keeping people out of the hospital and other severe outcomes. Dr. Schaffner says, “That we achieved a reduction of infection and subsequent transmission was kinda a bonus.”
All of this is to say that vaccines are a great way to keep people vaccinated safely. He admits that vaccines are not perfect. This is where mitigation measures like masking may be useful.
I have a compromised immune system but am vaccinated. What should I do?
If you have been vaccinated and a medical condition or medication compromises your immune system, the CDC recommends you take extra precautions. For example, wearing a mask indoors in public places unless your doctor has advised you otherwise. The COVID-19 vaccines can reduce the risk of spreading the virus. However, those with compromised immune systems may not be protected even if they have been fully vaccinated.
Dr. Salvatore says that masks should be worn if you believe your immune system may be compromised.
She says, “Having been vaccinated is great, but it doesn’t make one Superman.” “These variants are more transmissible, so you need to be extra careful if you suspect you may have a disease against which you might not be able to mount an immune response.
Dr. Schaffner offers similar advice. Dr. Schaffner offers similar advice: “Sure, don’t wear the mask, but if you believe the vaccine is not providing optimal protection, then do so. And to the extent that you feel comfortable, social distancing.”