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Is it safe to go to a restaurant after you get the COVID vaccine?

is it safe to go to a restaurant after the vaccine
Photo via Jim G/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: July 9, 2021

The United States is making progress in distributing COVID vaccines. About 55% of the U.S. has been fully vaccinated and as many as 4.6 million people have gotten the shot in one day. But despite the progress being made, we might not ever reach herd immunity. You may be wondering if it’s safe to go to a restaurant after you get the vaccine—and if you should wear a mask while doing so. 

The answer is complicated.

Eating indoors, even if tables are spaced six feet apart, is still considered a “higher risk” activity by the CDC. Additionally, indoor dining where tables aren’t spaced six feet apart is considered “highest risk.” COVID-19 infections mostly occur when not social distancing, though it is possible to still infect someone from more than six feet away.

Some experts recommend continuing to wear a mask and social distance. That means limiting your time in restaurants, even if you think it might be safe to go because you have gotten the vaccine.

“You’re self-protected, but you still could be a danger to other people, especially if you start using behavioral disinhibition, saying, ‘I’m vaccinated, I’m invulnerable,’” Larry Corey, co-director of the COVID-19 Prevention Network, told Smithsonian. “You could acquire COVID and it will be silent, and then you can infect a bunch of people who are not as lucky as you to be vaccinated at this point in time.”

But in mid-May, the CDC said that vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in most places, both indoors and outside. That doesn’t mean you necessarily should, especially if you’re not sure how many people around you are vaccinated, and that doesn’t mean restaurants will stop requiring their customers to wear a face covering.

Not wearing a mask could also make it easier to catch the common cold, which seems to be increasing as the world opens up again.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are both about 95% effective, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72% effective. But despite their high efficacy rates, the vaccines help people develop antibodies in their blood and have not been proven to fight infections in the mucus in the mouth and nose. If the antibodies don’t fight infections in the mouth and nose, it’s possible that vaccinated individuals could carry the live virus and spread it to others, even if they don’t get sick from it. 

The rise of the delta variant also plays a factor, as it’s become the most dominant strain in the U.S. and is highly affecting the unvaccinated population.

“The vaccine gives us all a certain amount of comfort, which is good, but I think it would be a mistake to just assume, get two vaccines and then we can have large gatherings again,” Deborah Lehman, a professor of clinical pediatrics at UCLA, told Smithsonian. “It’s going to be a while before we feel comfortable recommending that all those restrictions be relaxed.”

After you get the vaccine, is it safe to …

Sources: Smithsonian, Health, USA Today, CDC


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