When it comes to our lives after vaccination, many of us have questions about how “back to normal” we can get. While the state of things is changing rapidly as time goes on, it’s definitely becoming safer to go back out than it has been this past year. Slowly, things are in process to getting back to normal life. But this brings up a lot of questions.
How soon before everything opens back up? How close can “life after vaccination” go to the way it was before? Am I safe if I’ve already had my shot? Here’s our guide to some of the most important questions to think about when you consider getting back out there:
After vaccination can I still pass COVID-19 to others?
At this time, the answer is unclear. The CDC says that it’s potentially still possible to pass on the virus to others even if you have been vaccinated. This is because the infection rate post-vaccine is not zero, and while you will experience a less intense version of the virus if you do become infected after vaccination, someone you pass it on to may not. However, the studies that have been done so far found lower transmission rates in vaccinated people.
This is why social distancing and mask measures are still in place for the time being. While that status may change after we reach “herd immunity,” for now the CDC recommends exercising caution even after you have been vaccinated and waited two weeks.
Do I still need to wear a mask?
Yes, masks are still recommended to be worn in public spaces, especially if they’re indoor or crowded. This is because we don’t have enough evidence yet to say that vaccinated people can’t pass on the virus.
As time goes on, the CDC hopes that this recommendation will be able to change if it’s found that people who have been vaccinated are not spreading the infection. However, at this time the evidence isn’t in yet so we are still waiting on the science to figure out how to move forward.
Do I still need to social distance?
Yes, precautions like staying six feet apart and avoiding crowded places with poor ventilation are still in place until more evidence on whether the vaccine prevents transmission is accumulated.
When it comes to going out to places like restaurants, checking your local guidelines can help you set the safest plan—some places are beginning to open the doors to activities like indoor dining as soon as this summer, if the infection rates drop off before that time. This situation is evolving and what happens as time goes on remains to be seen, but the economy is beginning to trickle back to normal for the time being.
How soon before everything goes back to normal?
It’s impossible to say, since there are many moving variables in place. Whether the vaccine prevents transmission, how many people get the vaccine, and whether new variants of the virus that the vaccine doesn’t prevent are introduced into the population are just a few of these considerations.
Some experts have suggested that if everything goes according to plan, we could be back to a “new normal” by fall. It remains to be seen what this “new normal” will look like and whether the vaccine rollout happens everywhere as planned.
Checking your local guidelines is the best way to make plans for the near future and stay safe. Keeping a record of your immunization if you have received one is a good way to make sure you’ll be ready to go to any private businesses that open to customers who have proof of vaccination.
What about variants of the virus?
The science is still developing around the question of variants, but the vaccine does prevent several different strains of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19. Unfortunately there is at least one variation of the virus—the “South Africa strain”— that the vaccines have been less effective against in trials. It remains to be seen whether this problem can be solved with booster shots.
Like most viruses, SARS-CoV-2 can mutate quickly, so it’s impossible to tell what the future holds. Vaccine rollout across the globe is slow, and a mutation in a virus in another country could create a mutation that is introduced internationally. In that case, it may be a variation of the virus that is not covered by an existing vaccine. The global health community is working towards solutions to this problem at present.
In the meantime, getting as many people vaccinated as possible and waiting to find out whether transmission of the virus is prevented by the vaccine is the most hopeful path forward.