You just received your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and are wondering which pre-pandemic activity you’ll resume first. Maybe you’ll dine in at your favorite neighborhood restaurant, get together with friends you haven’t seen in a long time or finally ditch that mask that’s been fogging up your glasses when you enter a store.
While all these possibilities are understandably tempting, experts are saying, “not so fast.” Getting your vaccine may seem like a ticket back to normal life, but until more people are vaccinated, the safest thing a person can do is keep doing what you were, and weren’t, doing already.
“Scientists estimate that a majority of the population, around 70%, need to be immune through either natural infection or vaccination, before transmission is significantly reduced,” says Rush University Medical Center infectious disease expert Michael Lin, MD, MPH.
Even though it’s not what we want to hear, the best thing to do after getting vaccinated is to maintain COVID-19 precautions and wait to hear from infectious disease experts and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about when we’ve reached herd immunity — the point when a large enough part of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease to limit further disease spread — and we safely can return to pre-pandemic activities.
While it’s disappointing that life can’t return to normal immediately after being vaccinated, the good news is getting your vaccine puts all of us one step closer to a post-pandemic life. In the meantime, the following are five major habits Lin says you should maintain while you wait for the post-pandemic era to arrive.
1. Keep your face mask handy.
It's safe to say that face masks are here to stay for quite a while. Even if you received both doses of a vaccine, face mask regulations or guidelines in your area will more than likely not be changing any time soon.
One of the most important reasons for continuing to wear a mask is the protection of others. While we know the vaccine is effective in protecting recipients from developing COVID-19, it’s still possible that you could be infected with the COVID-19 virus, be asymptomatic and unknowingly spread it to others who haven’t been vaccinated yet.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is very effective (around 95%) but it’s not 100% effective and it’s still possible to catch COVID-19 after vaccination,” Lin explains. “Until the pandemic is over, vaccinated individuals still need to follow COVID-19 prevention measures.”
Keeping everyone masked whether they’re vaccinated or not plays a huge role in keeping your community safe and slowing the spread of COVID-19 while the country continues to vaccinate the population.
2. Practice good hand hygiene.
Hopefully hand hygiene was already a part of your daily routine long before the pandemic started. If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that you can never wash your hands too much. It also taught us that there is, indeed, a proper technique and length of time when washing our hands.
If you need a hand washing refresher, students at Rush’s Laurance Day Armour School taught us how to correctly wash our hands in a tutorial video at the beginning of the pandemic.
3. Continue to keep your distance.
This might be the hardest pandemic habit to keep after getting vaccinated. Its been a year of Zoom gatherings, weekends home alone and, for some of us, no dates. Continuing to socially distance after being vaccinated can be frustrating, but it’s needed.
Like continuing to wear a face mask, continuing to socially distance is important when it comes to protecting those around you. Distancing also is a measure that protects you. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 offer up to 95% protection, that still leaves a 5% chance of catching COVID-19 from someone else. Abandoning social distancing now could leave you open to exposure, or put others at risk if you’re an asymptomatic spreader.
When looking to be with family or friends again, experts say the best thing to do is see those who have already received their second vaccine dose or anyone who has quarantined for at least 10 days before visiting them. Meeting outdoors if the weather allows is much safer than being indoors together, and keeping your gathering to less than 10 people is the safest way to see those friends and family members again.
4. Avoid non-essential travel.
Few post-vaccination possibilities sound better than taking a nice long vacation after 12 months of living in the midst of a pandemic. A white sandy beach, clear blue waters, breakfast with an ocean view, it all sounds to good to be true. Unfortunately, it is … for now, at least.
“Persons who have received COVID-19 vaccination should still follow public health guidance for travel,” Lin says.
This means getting vaccinated isn’t a get out of jail free card for travel. The CDC is still advising that right now is not a good time to travel, even if you are vaccinated. Traveling has played a major role in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States, and cases still are rapidly spreading in some parts of the country.
5. Maintain distance when dining indoors.
It’s Friday night, and you are tired of ordering takeout. You and your partner or friend both have received your second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and are asking yourselves: “Can I eat indoors?”
“If indoor dining is allowed by public health officials, then it would apply to vaccinated persons, but there are not separate rules for vaccinated persons,” Lin says. “Vaccinated persons should still follow public health guidance about wearing masks, hand hygiene and social distancing inside restaurants.”
With that in mind, indoor dining can still be a risky choice. This is especially true if you choose to dine-in with people from other households where you are less than 6 feet apart and unmasked. If do you choose to eat indoors, it is safest to stay masked as much as possible and try to maintain a 6-feet distance from others outside of your own household.
Patience is key
Given these recommendations, it may seem like getting a vaccine doesn’t make much difference. In fact, the vaccines are the key to a post-pandemic life; it’s just going to take a little longer to see their positive effects. The best way to get there is to stay patient and wait until enough people have been vaccinated for everyone, including you, to be safe.
Continuing to use a mask, limit who you see, socially distance and stay at home can help expedite the process of getting back to normal. If we all continue to do our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 while people continue to get vaccinated, we can, in turn, reach herd immunity and protect the people we care about from this deadly disease as we go.