As millions of people get vaccinated against COVID-19, we are all looking forward to the return to normalcy. Vaccines are very effective at protecting people against severe symptoms of COVID-19. They also decrease the probability of the virus being transmitted to other people.
“But we are not safe yet,” cautions Dr. James Cruz, senior medical director, Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. “Even if you have already been vaccinated, we all need to remain cautious and continue with prevention measures until many more people are vaccinated. We’re all in this together, and to keep everyone safe, please continue to follow public health guidelines about wearing masks and social distancing.
“My most important recommendation is to get vaccinated when it’s your turn,” he adds. “The only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 – and limit new mutations of the virus from emerging – is for most people to get vaccinated. Do not hesitate and remember that all vaccines are highly effective and safe.”
Dr. Cruz answers questions about what you can do to stay safe after being fully vaccinated, as well as his hopes for the future.
What are the most common side effects after getting vaccinated?
Not everyone experiences side effects, but some common ones are a very mild fever, soreness in the area where the shot was given, and feeling tired and body aches. Some people may experience more intense symptoms after the second from the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Side effects are, in general, relatively mild and they tend to last about 24 hours.
What should I do if I feel sick after getting my vaccination?
In most cases the discomfort from pain or fever in the first 24-48 hours after receiving your first or second dose is a normal sign that your body is building up its immune response to protect you from the COVID-19 virus. The CDC recommends that you should contact your primary care physician or provider i the redness or tenderness at the site of the shot gets worse after 24 hours. Also contact your primary care physician or provider if your symptoms are worrying you or do not go away after a couple of days.
How long will it take to build immunity after getting the vaccine?
With the vaccines that require two shots, it takes about two weeks after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to build strong immunity. The first shot develops just some immunity. But the second shot really stimulates the immune system. When a person develops symptoms after getting the vaccines, it is because your immune system is responding to the vaccine and building antibodies against the virus. And, even if you don’t experience any noticeable side effects, you will be protected after receiving the vaccines.
What precautions should I take after getting the vaccine?
It takes time for your body to build protection after getting vaccinated. After you have been fully vaccinated, you still need to follow the recommended safety guidelines, including wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and washing your hands frequently. It is not just about being able to fight the virus yourself, but also continuing to reduce the chances that you may transmit the virus to others. Medical experts are still studying whether fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus to others; until there is more clarity about that, it’s important to continue safety precautions even after you get the vaccine.
For households with multiple generations living together, what precautions should families take if some members are vaccinated while others are not?
My recommendation is to continue to follow the same guidance as before you were vaccinated: wear a mask, and keep the social distance, especially if in the household there is an essential worker in contact with many individuals outside the home. If you live in a household where all members have been vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask once the two-week period after being fully vaccinated has passed.
When can grandparents who have been vaccinated visit with children and grandchildren?
If the children and grandchildren are not vaccinated, grandparents and their grandchildren should follow previous guidelines: wear masks, social distance, and wash hands frequently. If you choose to gather, try to visit outdoors. The good news is that children older than 16 should be eligible to get the COVID vaccine starting April 15.
Can I gather indoors without masks?
Yes, but only if all the people have been fully vaccinated. Check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website for more information.
Can I go to restaurants or public events like concerts without masks?
Even after being fully vaccinated, if you go to a public event, you should continue to follow public safety guidelines. Recently, we saw an increase in COVID-19 infections in parts of the United States and in Europe, showing that we need to remain cautious, even though it’s very challenging since we have all been living through the pandemic for over a year now.
Can I travel by airplane?
Public health and medical experts continue to recommend limiting travel, especially by plane. If you travel outside the country, you may not be able to travel as freely as you think – even if you are fully vaccinated, you may have to quarantine.
Can I go to the gym?
Some gyms are opening up in California -- depending on infection rates in each county, which are changing frequently. Check with your local health department to see if they allow gyms to be open and be sure to check with your gym to ensure they are following restrictions about the number of people who can exercise inside the gym, as well as requirements for wearing masks, washing hands, and sharing and sanitizing gym equipment.
How effective are the vaccines against variants of the coronavirus?
The data seems to show that the three vaccines that we have in California -- the Pfizer and Moderna that require two shots and the Johnson & Johnson that requires one shot – are all extremely effective and prevent serious illness caused by the current virus variants. But we are still looking at the data, there may be other variants in the future.