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After you’ve been fully vaccinated, experts say there are several things to consider before you begin socializing with others again during the pandemic. Alvarez / Getty Images
  • Experts say it’s safe for two people who have been vaccinated to spend time together indoors, but several factors need to be considered.
  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each take 2 weeks after the second dose to reach maximum protection. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s 4 weeks.
  • People who have been vaccinated still need to wear a mask and practice social or physical distancing in public.

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 each day, a number of questions about what activities are — and aren’t safe — for individuals to partake in have arisen.

If you and a friend are both vaccinated, for example, is it a good idea to spend time together indoors without a mask on?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced the first set of public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. But like with many issues regarding safety during the pandemic, experts say there are still several factors to weigh.

First, before you even consider a get-together with a friend, you want to make sure both of you are fully vaccinated and have waited the appropriate length of time to reach maximum immunity.

“For the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you need to be at least 2 weeks out from the second dose,” said Dr. Krystina Woods, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai West in New York City. “At that point, you’ve reached what we believe from the studies is the maximum efficacy. And you’ll want to make sure that whoever you’re meeting with is in the same boat.”

If you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received emergency approval from the Food & Drug Association (FDA) in late February, you will need only one dose.

According to the CDC, a person is considered fully vaccinated if it has been 2 weeks or more since receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot. But Woods recommends waiting a bit longer before spending time with others indoors without a mask.

“There is some immunity that starts to develop 2 weeks after the dose, but you really want to wait 4 weeks because that’s when it is most protective,” Woods said.

According to the CDC, it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to visit with others who are fully vaccinated indoors without masks or physical distancing. But experts say there are some other factors to consider.

One is whether you or your friend have underlying health conditions that put either of you at higher risk for serious illness from the virus.

“If that’s the case, I’d be a lot more careful,” said Dr. Jill Foster, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview.

“But if you and your friend are both healthy and you’re both fully vaccinated and you want to meet in a well-ventilated room for a short period of time for a cup of coffee, then yes I think it’s reasonable to take your mask off,” she continued.

The CDC says it’s safe for a fully vaccinated person to visit unvaccinated people from a single household without masks, but only if those who are unvaccinated are at low risk for a severe form of COVID-19.

To be the safest, though, if members of your household are unvaccinated, both Foster and Woods advise against maskless indoor meetings.

“Go for a walk instead,” Foster advised.

That’s because it’s not understood yet if people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus.

Until the majority of the population is vaccinated, it’s important for everyone to still adhere to public health guidelines, including physical distancing, wearing a mask, and practicing good hand hygiene, even if you have been vaccinated, the CDC says.

“We don’t yet understand if the vaccine does prevent us from being able to harbor virus in our nose and throats that is still viable and could go on to infect other people,” Woods said. “Until we understand that, we have to assume that there is still the potential that those of us who are vaccinated could pass it on to others and basically be another vehicle for transmission.”

Additionally, even if you have been fully vaccinated, keep in mind there is still a chance you can get the virus and become sick.

“The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 95 percent effective, and everyone wants to assume they’re in that 95 percent,” said Foster. “But there’s still that 5 percent risk.”

Overall, clinical trial data found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease in eight countries studied. In the United States alone, it was determined to be 72 percent effective.

There are also new, more contagious variants emerging across the globe to consider. Early data suggests the vaccines can offer protection against these new strains, but they may not be as effective. More studies are needed to fully understand how well the vaccine can fight the new variants.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is when will it be safe to interact with others as we did during pre-COVID-19 times. For that to happen, we need to reach herd immunity, meaning the point where people can’t contract the virus and develop COVID-19 easily.

“We don’t yet know what percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to attain herd immunity,” Woods said. “Right now, we think it is a minimum of 70 percent, but it could certainly be much higher than that.”

Foster emphasizes that while things are looking up, we are still very far away from that point.

“Things are going to get better slowly, and we have to guard against feeling like there’s no progress,” she said. “There’s not going to be a magic day where this is all over and we can go back to normal. It’s already better in a lot of places, and we have to notice the progress we are making.”

Woods also urges people to get vaccinated when it’s their turn, as that is how we will get to the point of herd immunity.

“I think the important message to get out there is that people should be lining up to get their vaccine as soon as they become eligible,” she said.