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What can I do after getting vaccinated? Here's what we know so far

We talked to an expert who answered questions on how to get back to normal after getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
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YOUNGSTOWN — With more than 2 million Ohioans fully vaccinated, people are wondering: "What can I do once I've gotten my shots?"

Mahoning Matters chatted with Dr. Jill Uberti, vice president of Medical Affairs at St. Joseph Warren Hospital, to answer questions you may have about getting back to normal after the vaccine. 

If you have any additional questions, please email them to news@mahoningmatters.com.

I just got my second dose of the vaccine today! Am I considered fully vaccinated?

Not quite yet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine

Can't I just consider myself vaccinated after receiving one dose?

The effectiveness of the vaccine two weeks after the second dose "is the only thing that we have really done any good studies on to be able to say with any certainty," Uberti said. 

So, to be safe, experts recommend we don't consider ourselves fully vaccinated until two weeks after the final dose. 

"There is some speculation out there that if you had the virus and you had one dose that might have been enough," Uberti said. "But, at this point, that's still in the trial phases and still being investigated."

What can I do when I’m fully vaccinated?

"You should feel comfortable going and traveling and getting back to life as normal," Uberti said. 

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can visit other fully vaccinated people inside a home without wearing a mask. They can also visit inside with one household of unvaccinated people as long as those people are not at risk of severe illness.

Can I travel, if I’m fully vaccinated?

Yes! Fully vaccinated people can travel domestically without getting a pre- or post- travel COVID-19 test or quarantining after travel, according to the CDC.

For international travel, vaccinated people do not need to get tested before leaving the country, unless the destination requires it. However, you still need to show a negative test result or documentation or recovery from COVID-19 before boarding an international flight to the U.S. You do not need to self-quarantine after arriving in the U.S. The CDC still recommends you get tested three to five days after international travel. 

Are there things I still should avoid even if I’m vaccinated?

Uberti recommends avoiding situations with lots of people in a tight space, especially people who haven't been vaccinated — like, spring breakers. 

"At this point, we need to be mindful that we don't know with 100 percent certainty that we can't carry it or that we can't end up getting some form of the illness," said Uberti. "There's still that between 5 and 10 percent risk chance, so I wouldn't go putting myself into a situation where I felt uncomfortable."

The CDC recommends that vaccinated people avoid visiting indoors without a mask with people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. It also recommends that vaccinated people avoid attending medium or large gatherings. 

When do I need to wear a mask if I’ve been vaccinated?

"When you're in a public place — any place that has large gatherings or you're not sure who you're coming into contact with — they're still recommending all the guidelines," said Uberti. 

The CDC also recommends you wear a mask when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one household and when visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or someone who lives with a person at increased risk. 

Can I get COVID-19 if I’m fully vaccinated?

It’s possible, but the chances are low. In rare cases, officials have reported “breakthrough cases.” According to the Detroit Free Press, 246 fully vaccinated Michiganders got COVID-19 between January and March. Three have died. As of April 4, 1.8 million Michigan residents were fully vaccinated. 

Uberti said experts have also seen some people getting reinfected with COVID-19 within the expected three-month immunity timeframe.

"It's something we'll need to keep an eye on," Uberti said. "I don't know if that has to do with a variant. We don't test the different variants regularly enough to say that's what the cause is. But I think that, as a physician, that's what I'm going to be watching in the next couple of months."

I’m fully vaccinated, but I’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Do I still need to quarantine?

"Once you've been fully vaccinated, and it's been two weeks after your second dose in Moderna or Pfizer or your second week after the J&J vaccine, you don't need to quarantine. You can consider yourself immunized and protected. So, unless you develop symptoms, we don't recommend testing, and you aren't required to quarantine," Uberti said.

However, the CDC recommends, if you live in a group setting, like a group home, and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should quarantine for 14 days and get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Can I spread COVID-19 if I’m fully vaccinated?

"Early data show that the vaccines may help people from spreading the disease, but we’re still learning how well they do that," Uberti said. "We don't know for certain that [vaccinated people] can't spread it, but the data that we've seen following being vaccinated is very good that it does help protect you from spreading it."

Experts don't yet know if vaccinated people can be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, but "we feel that the risk is so minimal that we're comfortable telling you if you're amongst other people who are vaccinated, you don't have to wear your mask and take the same precautions," Uberti added.

Do vaccines work against the COVID-19 variants?

"From what we can tell, [with] the variants that we've had in the U.S., we are seeing the same immunity against those. So, so far, very good results," Uberti said. 

How do I report persistent side effects from my vaccination? Are there any?

Uberti, who is also an emergency physician, said she hasn't seen serious or prolonged reactions for more than a few days. 

"If it's an arm that aches or a low-grade fever, we're still at that point just recommending Tylenol," she said. "Sometimes we find that the more you move and get out and do things and get your lymphatics flowing, the better you're going to feel. Most people think, I don't feel good I should go lay down. We're seeing quite the opposite."

But, if what you're experiencing is more than "your typical sore arm and low-grade fever that you would see with any vaccine," Uberti recommends you see your doctor.  

"In the early stages, we were finding that some people would come away and have had COVID and didn't realize it at the time. So they didn't get it from the vaccine, but they had already developed COVID," she said.

Will I have to go back for another booster shot at some point?

In short, experts don't know yet.

"At the moment, we are still seeing that those that have been vaccinated are creating the antibodies they need," said Uberti. "So we're not that concerned yet that we will have to set a schedule."

She imagines we'll know more by the end of the summer, when a bit more time has passed since the first vaccinated folks got their shots.

"At this point, we think there might be something, whether it be annually, like the flu vaccine, but no strict guidelines at this point in time," she said. 

Do my teenage children really need to get vaccinated?

Uberti often hears parents with teen children say they would never get their kids vaccinated. 

The question is relevant since the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people age 16 and up. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for people 18 and up. 

As a mother of two high school-aged boys, she said, "I am fairly quick to say, 'Oh, I absolutely will get my kids vaccinated.' Because until we are all vaccinated, we're not going to be able to get rid of this virus or truly be safe," she added. "So I'm advocating for that, once the trials have been completed."

She also recommends that young adults get vaccinated, even if they're healthy and wouldn't have a severe case of COVID-19.

"[Young, healthy adults] tend to not feel the need, because they don't feel that they will get that sick. But there's a lot of people out there, and until we can create this herd immunity, we won't be truly safe. So, I just advocate for everyone to get it," she said.