Last week, I took to social media to ask people what their biggest questions were about life after the Covid-19 vaccine. Within minutes, my post had dozens of comments. “When can I hug my dad? That’s all I want to do,” one person wrote. “Indoor dining at a restaurant? Airplane travel?” another asked. I also got questions about whether it’s safe to congregate indoors with other vaccinated people, whether vaccinated people can spread Covid-19 without knowing it, and what it means if some family members are vaccinated and others aren’t.
These are all excellent questions. Unfortunately, there aren’t clear, black-and-white answers to many of them. We still don’t have the data we need to answer some questions definitively while others will depend on a person’s situation and risk tolerance. Nevertheless, I called five people — two infectious disease physicians, an immunologist, and two public health scientists — to get their thoughts. They emphasized that we shouldn’t think of vaccination as a carte blanche; instead, we should think of it as an additional (and very helpful) layer of protection. The more layers we have, the safer we will be.
Can vaccinated people still spread Covid-19?
This question is important because it shapes the answers to all of the others. The two vaccines that are approved for use in the U.S., made by Moderna and Pfizer, and the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson that is being considered for Food and Drug Administration approval now, were all evaluated in clinical trials to see if they could do one thing and one thing only: keep vaccinated people healthy. Thankfully, the three vaccines do this very well. People who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines in the clinical trials were 94% and 95% less likely, respectively, than unvaccinated people to develop symptoms of Covid-19. People who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were 66% less likely than unvaccinated people to develop moderate to severe Covid-19 symptoms, but importantly, they were fully protected against hospitalization and death.