- This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: April 16, 2021
The United States is slowly but surely making progress in distributing COVID vaccines. About 20% of the U.S. has been vaccinated and as many as 4.6 million people have gotten the shot in one day. But despite the progress being made, we won’t achieve herd immunity or lift most COVID restrictions for months. 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, and you may be wearing a mask for longer than you think.
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.
Even though the COVID vaccines protect you from the symptoms of the coronavirus, experts don’t know if it will also stop you from spreading COVID to others. Researchers have not yet studied how vaccinated individuals may carry or spread the disease, and it will likely be months before they come to a conclusion.
Until researchers can say definitively whether vaccinated individuals can spread COVID to others or not, 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.”
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.
For now, experts recommend that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear a mask, social distance, and limit high-risk activities like eating indoors. Many believe it will be months, likely until the fall of 2021, before the U.S. starts lifting COVID restrictions on things like mask-wearing and large gatherings.
“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 …