What is life like for those of us lucky enough to be fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 coronavirus?
First off, what is fully vaccinated in the scientific sense? The Centers for Disease Control says someone is fully vaccinated if it has been two weeks since either A.) receiving the second dose in a two-shot series from Pfizer or Moderna, or B.) receiving the first dose of the Johnson and Johnson Jansen vaccine.
If two weeks have not passed, you don't fit the criteria. (Even if you do, none of the vaccines' efficacy rates are 100% and there are some small number of cases beginning to emerge of those vaccinated contracting COVID-19.)
So the answer to the question of what life is like now is something along the lines of, "not much different than before." The good news is you're very unlikely to contract the disease -- and you're very, very, very unlikely to become seriously ill from COVID -- but you still need to wear a mask and you still need to stay socially distanced from others.
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Here are some more nuanced answers to questions about traveling, seeing family and friends indoors and when things might truly turn a corner in the pandemic.
Do I Need to Be Vaccinated to Fly? Can I Travel Now?
You don't need to be vaccinated to fly, but whether you're vaccinated or not, you need to wear a mask on an airplane. And yes, you can certainly travel now if you're fully vaccinated, but there are still testing requirements before and after your trip. The testing guidelines can change depending on whether you're flying domestically or internationally, and what places within the United States you're visiting.
The CDC's guidelines for travel differs whether trips are within the United States or internationally.
"Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread SARS-CoV-2 and can now travel at low risk to themselves within the United States. International travelers need to pay close attention to the situation at their international destinations before traveling due to the spread of new variants and because the burden of COVID-19 varies globally," the CDC guidelines state.
The CDC has an interactive map of the world showing the risks of traveling internationally. (Hint: Nearly the entire globe is red, meaning the highest risk level.)
Do I Have to Wear a Mask Indoors if Others Are Also Fully Vaccinated?
No, health officials have loosened restrictions on mask-wearing for groups gathering indoors if everyone is fully vaccinated. Remember: that designation isn't official for you or others if it hasn't been two weeks since either your second dose of the Pfizer or Modern vaccine or the single dose of the J&J vaccine.
"Indoor visits between fully vaccinated people who do not wear masks or physically distance from one another are likely low risk," the CDC guidelines state. "For example, if you are fully vaccinated, it is likely a low risk for you to invite other fully vaccinated friends to dinner inside your private residence."
Still, remember to put the mask back on if you're going to be in public because the science remains unclear about whether a fully vaccinated person can be a carrier of the coronavirus and it is impossible to know who is vaccinated and who is not when walking down the street or an aisle at the supermarket.
"The level of precautions taken should be determined by the characteristics of the unvaccinated people, who remain unprotected against COVID-19," the CDC states.
The decision to wear a face mask or stay social distancing could best be exemplified by a simple, some might say golden, rule: Do for others what you would have them do for you. If you weren't vaccinated yet, would you prefer others consider your health?
Are We Going to Wear Masks in Public Forever?
Health officials and epidemiologists have not formed a consensus on when the pandemic will finally come to an end. Herd immunity combined with widespread vaccination remains months away, and new research into how long the vaccines remain effective suggests that inoculated people may begin vulnerable again after as little as six months.
That said, a consensus remains elusive on longterm restrictions to public life, so no one can say definitively whether face masks or social distancing will or will not be part of our lives well down the road in, say, five or 10 years. Some are predicting mask-wearing will remain into 2022, however.
“We are likely looking at late winter 2022 to continue wearing masks,” Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett of Boston Medical Center told NBC in February.
What Is a Vaccine Passport? How Can I Get It?
The World Health Organization on Monday issued guidelines for international travel that recommended against countries instituting a vaccine passport system that enables fully vaccinated travelers to cross borders easier than people not vaccinated.
"Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given the limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and the persistent inequity in the global vaccine distribution," the WHO guidelines state, including the bolded "not."