public health

Fully Vaccinated People Can Gather Unmasked, CDC Says

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People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now spend time together indoors and unmasked, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday in its long-awaited guidance for what immunized people can safely do.

“We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement.

This is the first federal public-health guidance from the agency aimed at providing a pandemic-weary nation a first step toward returning to normal activities. Under the guidelines, vaccinated people can take fewer precautions in certain situations, including socializing indoors without masks when in the company of low-risk or other vaccinated individuals. But the guidance still includes important safety precautions: The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to wear well-fitted masks, avoid large gatherings, and physically distance themselves from others when out in public. Health officials also advised vaccinated people to get tested if they develop symptoms that could be related to COVID-19.

The new CDC recommendations also stress that protection from the vaccine doesn’t kick off when a shot hits your arm: The agency considers Americans “fully vaccinated” once two weeks have passed since they received the final dose of their vaccine regimen, giving the body time to build antibodies against the virus. In the case of vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which have been authorized for emergency use since December, that means two weeks after the second of two shots. For the recently authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it means two weeks after a single jab. About 30 million Americans — or only about 10 percent of the U.S. population — are “fully vaccinated” with a federally authorized COVID-19 vaccine so far, according to the CDC.

“This is very welcome guidance,” Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the CDC, told NBC News. “This opens the door for grandparents to meet with their children and grandchildren without masks, indoors, for a nice group hug.” Brown University School of Public Health dean Ashish Jha also applauded the new guidelines, tweeting that the “CDC totally gets it right.”

Fully Vaccinated People Can Gather Unmasked, CDC Says