If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 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? Also, what steps can you take to stay safe with more-contagious versions of the virus, like the Delta variants, going around? 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, yes. That’s because certain mutated versions of the virus, like the Delta variant, seem to spread more easily and quickly. Even though Delta infects a small percentage of fully vaccinated people and those infections tend to be mild, research suggests that you can still spread the virus to others.
A federal rule says you must wear a mask when you’re using public transportation, like while you’re riding on a plane, bus, or train. You also have to mask up while you’re indoors at a travel hub, like an airport or station.
It’s also important to know your state’s or county’s rules for mask wearing. Check your local public health department’s website to see if they list the latest guidelines.
Otherwise, you can take recommended steps to help protect yourself and others. For starters, wear a mask indoors in public if you’re in an area where there’s a “substantial” or “high” amount of COVID-19 going around. You can find a map with this info that gets updated daily on the CDC’s “COVID Data Tracker.”
Whether the virus is spreading just a little or a lot in your area, it’s extra important to mask up indoors if:
- You have a weakened immune system.
- You’re at higher risk for severe disease from COVID-19 due to an underlying health condition or because you’re over 65 years old.
- You live with someone who has a weakened immune system, has higher odds of getting severe disease, or hasn’t gotten vaccinated.
When you’re fully vaccinated, you can go mask-less for get-togethers with fully vaccinated people.
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, 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
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-19 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., 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’ve visited in person with someone who has COVID-19, get tested for the virus 3-5 after you were exposed to them, even if you don’t have symptoms. Wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days after the exposure or until you get a negative test result, which means you don’t have the virus. If your test result is positive, meaning you do have COVID-19, isolate yourself for 10 days.
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.