Guidelines for after your COVID-19 vaccine: Safety steps for fully vaccinated people to follow

By getting vaccinated you’ve made a powerful choice to keep yourself healthy and control the spread of COVID-19. 

But until more people are vaccinated, knowing what to do (and when) will help put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us for good while still looking out for vulnerable people. We can all do our part to help our communities be safer and healthier.

1. Know when you have full COVID-19 protection

After you’ve been vaccinated, protection against COVID-19 isn’t immediate – your immune system still needs time to use the vaccine to learn how to protect you. You’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 about two weeks after your final dose.

  • For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, that’s two weeks after your second dose.
  • For the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, that’s two weeks after your single dose.

If you haven’t waited two weeks yet, you’re still at greater risk for catching COVID-19 or passing it to others.

The COVID-19 vaccine is very effective. Most people, including those who were vaccinated months ago, continue to have incredible protection, even against new variants of COVID-19.

However, for some people, the effectiveness of your COVID-19 vaccine may decrease over time. That means you could need a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot to bring your protection back up.

Right now, most people don’t need a booster shot. However, a booster shot can provide added protection for people who are more likely to get a serious case of COVID-19.

You’re eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot if you got the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and are one of the following:

  • Over the age of 65
  • Over the age of 18 and more likely to get infected because of your job
  • Over the age of 18 and at higher risk of getting severe COVID-19 due to health status or chronic conditions

If you are eligible, consider getting a booster dose to strengthen your protection against COVID-19. It’s recommended you schedule your booster dose at least six months after your second dose.

According to the CDC, “A small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it.” These instances are called COVID-19 breakthrough cases. That means that while someone who is fully vaccinated is much less likely to get sick, it can still happen. It’s also possible that fully vaccinated people might be infected, but not have symptoms.

Although COVID-19 vaccines are very effective, no vaccine prevents illness 100% of the time. There are breakthrough cases with any vaccine. Experts continue to study how common COVID-19 breakthrough cases are.

According to the CDC, studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing you from getting COVID-19, and also reduce your risk of spreading COVID-19.

COVID-19 tests look for the presence of coronavirus. And since none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain the coronavirus, they won’t cause you to test positive.

However, since it takes some time after getting vaccinated for your body to build up protection, you may test positive for COVID-19 after you’re vaccinated. This is not a result of the vaccines, though – you’ve just encountered COVID-19 in your community one way or another.

2. Understand changing mask requirements

Masking guidelines continue to change as we learn more about new, more contagious variants of COVID-19.

Wearing a mask is still required in some situations

T o help control the spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the following recommendations for fully vaccinated people in areas of substantial or high community transmission:

  • Outdoors – In general, you don’t need a mask outdoors. But you may consider wearing one if you’re going somewhere crowded or if you know you’ll be around unvaccinated people.
  • Indoors – Continue to wear a mask in public indoor spaces to protect yourself from the more contagious variants of COVID-19 and to prevent the possibility of spreading it to others.
  • Masks are still required:
    • In hospitals, clinics and other health care settings
    • When taking communal transportation, like airplanes, buses or trains
    • If a workplace, business or other place requires masking

Individual organizations and governments can still choose to make masking (or other COVID-19 safety procedures) mandatory, regardless of your vaccination status. Always follow local guidance for the store, restaurant or location you’re in.

3. Get tips for situations when not everyone is (or can be) vaccinated

Can vaccinated people gather? Can vaccinated people travel? Yes: Fully vaccinated people can resume activities just like they did before the pandemic (while also following local safety guidance). 

But even if you’re fully vaccinated, not everyone else is. In addition, some people, like younger children, aren’t able to get vaccinated yet.

Some safety guidelines are different for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Understanding how you might navigate situations when not everyone around you is (or can be) vaccinated may help you feel more confident.

4. Keep washing your hands frequently

Washing your hands often is always a good idea! Frequent handwashing helps prevent all kinds of germs from making you sick and spreading to others.

Especially while COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, washing your hands continues to be a basic safety measure to help keep everyone healthier. It only takes about 20 seconds, and the benefits for both you and others are significant.

5. Encourage friends and family to get vaccinated

The evidence is clear: Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of the most important things we can do to help bring the pandemic to an end and resume regular life. But some people remain hesitant about vaccination.

We want everyone who’s eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine to do so. But as a close friend or family member, it’s actually you who’s in the best position to talk with those you care about and inspire them to get vaccinated.

If you’re comfortable with it, consider bringing up vaccination with your friends and family. If someone isn’t sure about getting vaccinated:

  • Be empathetic. It’s normal to have questions, and it can be hard distinguishing good information sources from misinformation. Having an empathetic attitude can help you keep things in perspective, acknowledge feelings and explore concerns together.
  • Ask if you can share information with them. No one likes being pressured, so if you’ve been able to have a good discussion with a friend or family member, ask if you can point them to trusted information sources. Some people may have general questions, while others may have specific concerns – you don’t have to be an expert. HealthPartners and Park Nicollet have great vaccine FAQs and vaccine facts that address many common questions.
  • Focus on personal situations and goals. Helping the people you care about find a reason to get vaccinated can help overcome a reason not to. And oftentimes, personal vaccination reasons are more persuasive than general ones. Whether it’s seeing each other in person again, being able to attend a family reunion or enjoying a vacation together, getting vaccinated can help enable those meaningful personal experiences.
  • Help make vaccination happen. If a loved one decides to get vaccinated, help them make that experience faster and easier. For example, you might assist them with scheduling a vaccination appointment, drive them to and from their appointment, babysit or pet sit while they’re getting vaccinated, or something else. By making yourself available, you can help turn a vaccination commitment into a reality.