Life after vaccination: How safe is it?

Many older adults are becoming fully immunized against COVID-19. Being immunized is an important way to keep yourself safe but vaccines do not allow you to drop all other public health precautions to prevent COVID-19. While full immunization should help prevent a person from developing severe illness or being hospitalized, transmitting the virus to others is still a concern. Handwashing and mask-wearing are still required.

“This is not only for your own health, but even more for the health of others. I would caution folks not to abandon good hygiene habits,” said Bernard Davidson, psychologist and associate professor at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

While full vaccination brings a feeling of relief, it’s not a license to let your guard down, explained Davidson. For many people, there may be an impulse to catch up and get physically close again, but now is not the time to do this.

“We are not sure about the transmission potentials of any variant forms of the virus that have mutated,” said Davidson. “Don’t think because you have been immunized that you can’t carry or transmit the virus. You do touch things, so you conceivably could carry and transmit by shaking hands or you could potentially transmit by coughing or breathing even though you may be asymptomatic.”

This advice is not intended to “spoil the party” but rather to remind all older adults there is more that can and needs to be done to help stop the spread of COVID. Many people may want to travel immediately and see their kids, grandkids, other relatives and friends they have missed this past year.

“Rather than focusing on making up for the year you lost, I think it would be more helpful for you and yours to reflect on how grateful you are to have remained healthy and to look forward to getting closer to the time you can safely engage in activities you have wanted or previously planned to do,” said Davidson.

What about get-togethers?

If you and your household are fully immunized, it seems like it would be fine to have a dinner party with seven or eight friends who also are fully immunized. However, that may not be such a great idea, according to Dr. Mariah Robertson, who is with the department of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

“While I wish that it were as simple as saying yes to this, the vaccines aren’t perfect and it remains important to wait on the big gatherings until community spread and numbers are lower,” said Dr. Robertson.

It would be okay to gather with three or four other fully vaccinated people for a meal, but you should avoid large numbers of people in an indoor space because that can increase the risk of COVID spread, Dr. Robertson said.

“I think we will continue to learn more and our thoughts around this might change but this is what I am advising my patients for now.”

Personal contacts

It is important to feel some freedom in this time, so a hug with a friend who is also vaccinated is considered fine, a human connection in a way that has not been feasible up until now. Dr. Robertson said vaccinated older adults can now feel more comfortable going out and doing activities like grocery store trips.

“It isn’t a pass to go out in big gatherings, particularly with community rates as high as they are and the more infectious variants of the virus spreading, but it is a pass to liberalize a bit of the connecting that we have been starved of for the past year,” Dr. Robertson said.

Some older adults had friends and neighbors shopping for them during the past year. Now vaccinated, they can return the favor.

“I think it is a great idea for those who are vaccinated to help out those who aren’t yet vaccinated by going to the store for them or running other errands. When going shopping or in any venues with a lot of people, continuing to observe social distancing and masks is a good practice,” said Dr. Robertson.

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