The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now given emergency use authorization to three COVID-19 vaccines. Two of them—the one developed by Moderna and the one developed by Pfizer/BioNTech—require two separate doses given a few weeks apart. The third vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, is only one dose. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or two weeks after their single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the CDC says.
There is “robust data” from clinical trials showing that all three of these vaccines can profoundly reduce the risk for severe complications, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, Dr. Walensky said in the briefing. But, although there is some data to suggest they can also help prevent asymptomatic infections and reduce the spread of the virus from person to person, there is less conclusive evidence for these claims.
That means that, once you’re fully vaccinated, you have significant protection against developing a symptomatic COVID-19 infection, but there is still a chance you could get a mild or asymptomatic case of the infection—and potentially spread the infection to others, Dr. Walensky explained.
That’s why the potential risks you might face after your shot(s) are not just about your own vaccination status. Even after you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll need to take the risks of those around you into account in order to make the safest choice for everyone.
“This is precisely what @CDC should be doing: cautiously balancing uncertainty with evidence and distilling it into clear, actionable guidance relevant to people’s daily lives,” Angela Rasmussen, Ph.D., virologist at Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security, said on Twitter.
“CDC totally gets it right,” Ashish K. Jha, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on Twitter. “Vaccinated people can hang with other vaccinated people. Vaccinated grandparents can hug unvaccinated grandkids,” he said, noting that in many cases “broader public health measures should remain for now because lots of high risk folks are not yet vaccinated.”
“I’m very happy to see the new @CDCgov guidance for fully vaccinated people! BUT remember: ‘fully vaccinated’ doesn’t mean you JUST got your shot!” Craig Spencer, M.D., director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, said on Twitter, noting that people will need to wait at least two weeks after getting the full dose regimen of whichever vaccine they get.
Ultimately, this is just an “initial guidance,” Dr. Walensky said. And as our understanding of the virus continues to evolve, vaccines reach more and more people, and the overall landscape of the pandemic changes, these recommendations will likely change as well.