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Don't let your guard down just yet. Even vaccinated people need to take precautions.

By Claire Gillespie
April 02, 2021
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More than a month after getting her second dose of the Moderna vaccine, a woman from Long Island tested positive for COVID-19.

Melanie Rosen, a school secretary, told PIX-11 she thought being fully vaccinated meant she could go back to normal without taking the recommended safety precautions, like mask wearing and social distancing.

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Credit: Design by Jo Imperio

That included attending a wake for her friend's father without wearing a mask.

"There was probably at least 10 family members there," Rosen said. "I hung out for about an hour and a half without wearing a mask. I hugged each one."

A few days after the wake, Rosen started to experience COVID-19 symptoms, including a stuffy nose and body aches. She discovered that three family members who were also there had tested positive for the virus.

"I was shocked," Rosen said. "I'm the 4.9% that got Moderna and actually got COVID."

Fortunately, she only had a mild case of the illness—probably due to the fact that she had been fully vaccinated, which she said she's thankful for.

What happened to Rosen may be rare, but it can happen because none of the COVID-19 vaccines are 100% effective in preventing illness, Charles Bailey, MD, medical director of infection prevention at St. Joseph Hospital and Mission Hospital in Orange County, California," tells Health.

"Even the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 'only' 95% effective in preventing severe disease during the clinical trials conducted prior to their FDA approvals, and prior to the arrival of several variant strains for which they may offer somewhat less protection," Dr. Bailey explains.

It's also important to be aware that people who get vaccinated can still spread the virus to others.

"Vaccines are very effective at preventing severe illness in recipients, but they do not prevent the COVID-19 virus from potentially infecting such individuals," Dr. Bailey says. "Once infected, a vaccinated individual can theoretically pass on the infection, whether or not they themselves develop symptoms."

Dr. Bailey stresses the importance of following safety measures even after you've been vaccinated. "Vaccinated individuals shouldn't put themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19," he says. "And because those people may be capable of spreading COVID-19, their continued use of masks helps protect others, especially those who aren't yet vaccinated themselves."

The recommended safety guidelines, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are slightly different if you've been fully vaccinated (i.e., it's been two weeks since your dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine).

According to the CDC, if you're fully vaccinated, you can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask, and you can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, if you're visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks. However, if any of those people, or anyone they live with, has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, you should mask up.

But even if you're fully vaccinated, you should still take steps to protect yourself and others, for instance, by wearing a mask in public, staying at least six feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. You should also take these precautions if you're gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household, or visiting with an unvaccinated person who is at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 or who lives with a person who is at increased risk.

And you should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you've been around someone who is sick. Rosen's story proves that you can still get infected. "You can still get it; you can probably still spread it," she said. "I want people to know it's not over."

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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