Which activities are safe once you’re fully vaccinated? Experts say movies, travel, and family gatherings are on the table.

A recently reopened movie theatre.
A recently reopened movie theater.

  • The US has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Public-health experts say it’s probably safe for vaccinated people to meet for dinner or gather indoors.
  • Some experts think vaccinated people can even return to offices and movie theaters or see their unvaccinated grandkids.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

So you’ve received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Does life change a little – or a lot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidelines this week detailing how Americans can safely alter their behavior once they’re fully vaccinated. But the rules are complicated by a few unknowns – namely, the extent to which vaccinated people can pass the virus to others and the threat of contagious variants that may evade vaccine protection.

So far, Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials have only tested whether vaccines prevent symptomatic COVID-19 cases. But emerging evidence suggests the vaccines can reduce coronavirus transmission as well. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 single-dose vaccine also seems effective at reducing transmission, according to recent data.

Without more research, however, public-health experts caution that vaccinated people should continue to wear masks and social distance in public. Here’s what seven experts think are safe activities for vaccinated people. 

Dinners with other vaccinated people are relatively low-risk

outdoor tent covid
Women sit inside a bubble tent at the Cafe Tirree in Berlin, Germany, on October 24, 2020.

Dinners with other vaccinated people, whether indoors or outdoors, are a relatively safe activity.

“If we’re going to gather, we should gather smart, which doesn’t mean to have a 200-person wedding with people that you don’t know right away,” Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency-medicine physician at Columbia Medical Center in New York, told Insider. “Start, maybe, going out to dinner with a couple that is vaccinated, or your parents, maybe seeing them for a nuclear family dinner that you have been avoiding.” 

In general, interactions between people who are fully vaccinated – or immune due to a previous infection – are relatively low-risk for all parties involved, according to Florian Krammer, a vaccinologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“We need to be cautious and need to stay vigilant about risk,” he recently wrote. “But we should also allow people who have immunity to at least normalize some of their interactions.”

Small indoor gatherings aren’t such a bad idea, either

thanksgiving dinner
A family celebrates Thanksgiving on November 24, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut.

At a White House press briefing on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “doubly vaccinated” people – those who have received both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna’s shots – can safely gather indoors in small groups.

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” he said. “The relative risk is so low that you would not have to wear a mask.”

The new CDC guidelines will also advise that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated people, two senior White House officials involved in drafting the rules told Politico.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a molecular virologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said he plans to visit his two oldest children and their spouses for the first time in 14 months this weekend. All of them have either been vaccinated or contracted COVID-19, he wrote

Elderly people can see unvaccinated grandkids – with caveats

pfizer elderly UK
Husband and wife Vic and Penny Griffiths receive the Pfizer vaccine at Basildon University Hospital in Essex, England, on December 9, 2020.

Many elderly Americans have said they plan to see their children and grandchildren post-vaccination. If all adults in a family are vaccinated, such a gathering becomes “fairly low risk,” according to Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at New York University. That’s because coronavirus infections are generally mild or asymptomatic in children

“What concerns me is the people who are not yet vaccinated,” Gounder told Insider. “For example, you have three generations in a family: vaccinated grandparents, but not children or adults. That could still be a real problem.”

Kass also said it’s probably safe for elderly, vaccinated people to see their unvaccinated grandkids.

“My parents are vaccinated, which means that my kids can go visit my parents with a sense of relief that we haven’t had before,” Kass said.

Kids under 16 likely won’t be eligible to receive a shot until at least the fall or winter, or perhaps even early 2022. 

Domestic travel is relatively safe

airport coronavirus masks
Passengers wear masks as they walk through Los Angeles International airport.

The CDC may offer new travel guidelines for vaccinated Americans this week, but at the White House briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said “the goal is not to sort of open up travel” just yet.

For now, the CDC recommends that all Americans avoid domestic travel, if possible. For those who have been vaccinated, the agency suggests waiting to travel until at least two weeks after your second dose.

In general, however, experts say it should be fine for vaccinated people to travel within the US.

“If someone who is fully vaccinated decides to take a trip for non-essential reasons, they’re probably very well protected themselves and probably relatively protected against spreading the illness, too,” Dr. Leana Wen, the former health commissioner of Baltimore, told Insider.

Vaccinated people could potentially return to offices 

movie theater social distancing
Moviegoers social distance at the AMC Highlands Ranch 24 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on August 20, 2020.

Experts say most indoor activities wouldn’t be particularly risky if limited to vaccinated people only.

“For a fully vaccinated person who is in a cohort or socializes with other fully vaccinated people, I see it as being completely reasonable to go back to the theater and would even encourage people to see movies,” Dr. Daniel Griffin, a clinical medicine instructor at Columbia University, told Insider. 

But the risk of transmission and infection would increase substantially if unvaccinated people join the activity.

“Could you return to the office, if it’s only people who have been vaccinated who are in the office? I think that is fine,” Gounder said. “Where it becomes more complicated is if you have a mix.” 

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