It has been over a month since COVID-19 vaccines became available, and more than 15 million Americans have now received at least their first dose.
With vaccination rates slowly but steadily rising, is it safe for people who have been vaccinated to gather with one another?
“This is a very complicated topic just because there is so much uncertainty around it,” said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security on KCBS Radio’s “Ask An Expert” program.
While clinical trials have shown that both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic cases, the trials did not regularly test all of their participants, so it is not proven that the vaccine protects you from getting infected at all.
“We think that probably transmission will be reduced in vaccinated individuals, but we don’t know for sure,” said Dr. Rasmussen. That also means that there is no data to show that the vaccine can stop people from infecting others.
“My suspicion is that that potential for transmission will be greatly reduced, and that’s based on some limited data we have from clinical trials as well as data that has been obtained from pre-clinical trials in non-human primates, or monkeys.”
This is why people who receive vaccines are still supposed to follow the same safety precautions as the general public, including wearing masks in public and avoiding gatherings.
Additionally, the vaccine does not reach its full efficacy until sometime after the second dose and is not 100% effective.
But Dr. Rasmussen says because the vaccine greatly reduces risk, it may be relatively safe for vaccinated people to gather in small groups if everyone has received both doses and there is no contact with unvaccinated people.
“If everybody’s vaccinated, we do know that these vaccines are highly efficacious at reducing disease,” she said. “You can probably start dipping your toes into the pool of resuming normal social interactions again, as long as everybody’s vaccinated and you’re in a sequestered environment… If you haven’t seen your parents in months and you’re all vaccinated and it’s been two weeks since your second shot, it’s probably okay to get together.”
“What I think would be bad advice at this time would be to suggest that vaccinated people can get together with a group of their vaccinated friends and go bar hopping or go out into the public space not wearing a mask.”
Dr. Rasmussen says people who have been vaccinated should still follow normal safety precautions anytime they could come into contact with someone who is not vaccinated.