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Experts say people who are fully vaccinated should still follow COVID-19 safety protocols such as mask wearing. Jayme Burrows/Stocksy
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says people who are fully vaccinated probably don’t need to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.
  • Experts say the vaccines have proven to be highly effective at preventing serious disease, although the research isn’t conclusive yet on how well vaccines stop transmission of the virus.
  • Experts advise people who have been vaccinated to still follow safety protocols such as mask wearing and handwashing.

Fully vaccinated people who meet certain criteria no longer need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.

That’s the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The advisory says that people don’t need to quarantine if:

  • They are fully vaccinated.
  • They are within 3 months of receiving the final dose in the series.
  • They have no symptoms since exposure to COVID-19.

“Individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission, and facilitate the direction of public health resources to persons at highest risk for transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to others. This recommendation to waive quarantine for people with vaccine-derived immunity aligns with quarantine recommendations for those with natural immunity, which eases implementation,” the CDC states.

Those who don’t meet the criteria should continue to follow quarantine guidelines if exposed to a person with COVID-19.

Public health experts say the latest update to quarantine guidelines is good news.

“This is really an indication that the government and other agencies around the world are feeling comfortable that these vaccines are, in fact, going to give us more freedom to be able to go back to some kind of semblance of normal behavior,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of global health and infectious diseases at Stanford University in California, told Healthline.

Currently it’s unknown how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are at preventing transmission of the virus. But their effectiveness at preventing disease has proven to be significant.

“The data from the studies that were done show that … for the Pfizer vaccine, people are 95 percent protected 7 days after their second dose, and for the Moderna vaccine people are 94 percent protected 14 days after their second dose,” Maldonado said.

Although information on transmission effectiveness is limited, preliminary data is promising.

“We know that from the Moderna study they did swabs on asymptomatic vaccinnees at the time of the second dose, so 4 weeks after the first dose, and there was a 63 percent reduction in positive swabs in the vaccine group compared to the control. In some AstraZeneca studies, they found very similar decreases,” Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California Davis, told Healthline.

“We’ve been waiting for this ever since the vaccines were made available,” he said. “We always envisioned that vaccines would result in us returning to some sort of sense of normality eventually without having to mask and without having to social distance, so I think this is one step in the right direction.”

Experts emphasize that those who are vaccinated still have a responsibility to the general public to continue to abide by COVID-19 guidelines.

“The vaccines are not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. That’s the only downside of the new recommendation. It could, in some minds, cause more ambiguity and confusion,” Dr. Scott A. Kaiser, a primary care physician and geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline.

In the updated guidance, the CDC states that “at this time, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often, following CDC travel guidance, and following any applicable workplace or school guidance, including guidance related to personal protective equipment use or SARS-CoV-2 testing.”

These safety measures, Kaiser argues, are unlikely to change even with more people receiving vaccinations.

“One thing that hasn’t changed and I don’t expect to change is that even with vaccination we still need to go back to these fundamentals of wearing a mask, washing our hands, keeping a distance, avoiding crowds and avoiding particularly crowds in poorly ventilated spaces,” he said.

“We need to continue to do all of these things to reduce the transmission, reduce the spread of the virus. The vaccines are one tool in our toolkit, but all of these things are effective at reducing transmission of the virus and now it’s more important than ever to be doing that because there are… variants and strains that are resulting in more severe cases,” he added.

Blumberg said that those who are vaccinated are in a better position than those who have yet to be vaccinated. However, he said, that doesn’t mean life for the vaccinated can return to normal.

“Because these vaccines are not 100 percent effective, and because there still is risk of a person who is vaccinated, being asymptomatic and possibly transmitting the virus it’s not safe until we get a higher rate of immunity in the community,” he said.

The CDC advises that those who are fully vaccinated and who no longer need to quarantine should still monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 in the 14 days following an exposure to someone with the virus.

In the event a fully vaccinated person experiences symptoms, they should be evaluated by a physician and tested for COVID-19 where appropriate.

When a virus passes from person to person, it’s able to mutate. The more a virus mutates, the harder it is to maintain immunity from a vaccine.

Experts say the emergence of variants of the virus in South Africa and the United Kingdom mean it’s all the more important to curtail the transmission of the virus.

“We really want to stop transmission, not only because it decreases hospitalizations and death… but the more the virus has a chance to infect new people, the more it can mutate and the more we will start to see variants, which might eventually escape the immunity induced by the vaccine,” Maldonado said.