If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you’re probably pretty excited. You’re much less likely to catch the virus, get severely sick from it, or spread it to other people. That means you can start doing some of the things you might have been avoiding to keep yourself and others safe.
But what does it mean to be fully vaccinated? And once you are, do you still need to wear a mask and socially distance? Here’s what you need to know.
When Am I Fully Vaccinated?
In general, you get maximum protection from your COVID-19 vaccine:
- 2 weeks after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine, like Pfizer or Moderna
- 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson
Your body’s defenses need that time to learn how to spot and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. You’re not considered fully vaccinated until those 2 weeks are up.
Even after that time, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have a weakened immune system because of a health condition or a medication you take. These things can keep you from getting the full protection from the vaccine, so your doctor might recommend that you continue certain safety measures.
Do I Need to Wear a Mask Outdoors?
Once you’re fully vaccinated, experts say, you can safely start doing certain things outside without a mask, like:
- Walk, run, or bicycle
- Go to small get-togethers with fully vaccinated or unvaccinated people
- Have a meal at an open-air restaurant with friends from several households
But you should still wear a mask if you go to a large, crowded event like a:
- Sports event
Do I Need to Wear a Mask Indoors?
In some cases, you won’t need to wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart indoors once you’re fully vaccinated. You can go mask-less for:
- Get-togethers with fully vaccinated people
- Small gatherings with unvaccinated people (including kids) from one other household
Experts are still learning about how much the vaccine can keep you from catching the virus, getting sick from it, or spreading it to other people. So it’s safer to wear a mask if your gathering with unvaccinated people includes anyone who’s at higher risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19 because of things like their age or certain long-term health conditions.
It’s also best to keep wearing a mask when you:
- Go inside public buildings like malls, grocery stores, airports, and hospitals
- Get together indoors with unvaccinated people (including children) from more than one other household
- Meet indoors with someone who lives with an unvaccinated person at higher risk of severe illness
- Travel on public transportation such as airplanes, buses, or trains
And it’s safer to avoid large indoor gatherings.
Is It Safe for Me to Travel?
It depends on where you’re going. Once you’re fully vaccinated, you can travel safely within the United States. You don’t need to get tested for COVID before or after your trip unless the place you’re traveling to requires it. You don’t need to quarantine when you get back, either.
You should still take some safety measures while traveling:
- Wear a mask.
- When possible, stay 6 feet away from others, and avoid crowds.
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
If you plan to travel outside the U.S., play it safe and find out how much the virus is spreading there. You can check the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination page to learn more. Ask your airline whether you’ll need to bring any vaccination documents. Also look into whether your destination has travel restrictions like testing or quarantine requirements or stay-at-home orders.
You won’t need to get a COVID-19 test before you leave the U.S. unless it’s required at your destination. But the CDC recommends that you get tested 3 to 5 days after you come home.
If you’re living abroad, are fully vaccinated, and want to fly to the U.S., the CDC requires a COVID-19 test no more than 3 days before your flight to the States. That’s due to the spread of COVID-19 variants, some of which might make vaccines less effective, early research suggests.
What If I Come Into Contact With Someone Who Has COVID-19?
Full vaccination significantly lowers your chances of catching the virus. But experts still recommend watching for symptoms like:
- Fever or chills
- Trouble breathing or catching your breath
- Aches or headache
- Loss of smell or taste
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
If you were recently around someone with COVID-19 and you live in a place with lots of other people -- like a correctional facility or a group home -- you should get tested and isolate yourself as much as possible for 14 days after exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms.