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Can you still spread COVID after you’ve had the vaccine?

If you’ve had both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, you may be wondering if you can still spread the virus to others and if you can stop wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

“Right now, you still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing after getting vaccinated,” says Kinzi Shewmake, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician. “Studies haven’t come out yet about whether you can or cannot spread COVID-19 after getting the vaccine.”

Also, there’s still a small risk of contracting COVID-19 even after getting the vaccine.

“The vaccine isn’t 100% effective, and with the new strains coming out, we’re finding that certain vaccines offer more protection from the new strains than others,” she says. “There’s always a small risk of contracting COVID-19 after having your shot. But the vaccine definitely decreases the odds of that happening.”

So, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you still need to practice social distancing and wear a mask when you’re around people who live outside your household. You should also continue to wash your hands often.

What if both you and your loved ones have been fully vaccinated?

If you or a loved one – or both – have been fully vaccinated, you may be eager to stop wearing a mask or socially distancing. So, what’s the best approach? It depends, says Dr. Shewmake.

“I’ve had my COVID-19 vaccines and I’m still practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and washing my hands often – my behavior hasn’t changed,” she says. “I would still wear a surgical mask if I’m around someone outside my household. There’s still so much we don’t know for sure – things aren’t so black and white.”

If you and a friend have both been vaccinated and you know that friend practices safety precautions, you may feel more comfortable, as the risk is lower.

But if you’re going to be around a high-risk person, such as a grandparent, and they’ve been vaccinated but you haven’t, Dr. Shewmake recommends wearing a mask and social distancing to decrease the risk where you can.

“We still need human companionship and we still have to live,” she says. “You can try to reduce your risk as much as possible, but at the same time, there’s a risk of depression associated with social isolation. It’s easy for us to say not to visit people, but the social isolation from the pandemic is playing a huge role in anxiety and depression. We have to find a balance to limit the spread of COVID-19 to keep everyone healthy mentally and physically.”

When will life get back to normal?

“We’ll have to get closer to herd immunity before life can return to normal,” says Dr. Shewmake. “Also, we have to continue to make advances in the treatment of COVID-19. Because even if we reach herd immunity, people are still going to contract the virus. We want them to survive it.”

Vaccination is the safest way to achieve herd immunity. But if enough people don’t get the vaccine, the virus will continue to circulate widely, making it harder for life to return to “normal.”

When you’re able to, get vaccinated. In the meantime, continue to wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands. The more we practice safety precautions, the sooner we can return to “normal.”

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