February 21, 2022

You’ve had your 2nd dose. What’s safe to do now? | CBC News

We’re answering questions about the pandemic. Send yours to [email protected] — we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 80,000 emails from all around the country and the world.

Canadians are still waiting on official guidelines about what they’re allowed to do once they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Stay tuned,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at a press conference Tuesday, hinting that those guidelines would be coming soon. “This is being discussed as we speak.”

Meanwhile, about 20 per cent of Canadians have received both doses — and many want to know: What can I do now?

Experts say there are a few important things to keep in mind. Firstly, that a person isn’t fully vaccinated until two weeks have passed after their second dose. Secondly, that everyone’s situation and risk level is a little bit different, and even doctors and epidemiologists are sometimes divided on what’s safe to do.

Some experts are turning to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says it’s OK for Americans to resume activities they did before the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing.

WATCH / Feds say fully-vaccinated Canadians will be allowed to skip quarantine after travelling: 

The federal government announced that fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents will not have to quarantine when entering the country as of July 6, but some are frustrated by the restrictions that remain. 2:27

Other experts recommend more caution as we await official rules. 

“I’m really happy that there’s a lot of interest in the guidelines, because it means that people want to know how to do the right thing,” said Maria Sundaram, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at ICES Ontario, a health-care research centre based at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

“And I hope people feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I understand you’re comfortable not wearing a mask, but I’m just gonna wear one for a little bit longer,” she said.

Here are some common questions about what’s safe to do once fully vaccinated — and what Sundaram and other experts have to say.

Is it safe for two people who are fully vaccinated to hug? 

Yes, according to Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases doctor and associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“The risk of transmission is very low, and the risk of complications [is] low even in the worst case scenario,” Chagla told CBC News by email.

Sundaram agreed hugging is a “lower-risk interaction,” as long as both people are “truly fully vaccinated,” meaning they have waited two weeks after their second dose.

Are indoor gatherings with other fully-vaccinated people OK?

Chagla and Sundaram both say an indoor gathering with other fully-vaccinated people is a low-risk activity. 

Fully-vaccinated individuals are at a low risk of bringing COVID-19 into the environment — and even if someone does bring the virus, the other people there are at a reduced risk of actually acquiring it, Chagla said. There is also a lower risk of serious complications from the disease if someone does contract it.

Dr. Zain Chagla is an infectious disease specialist in Hamilton, Ont., and an associate professor at McMaster University. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Chagla added Canadians should continue to follow their local public health rules. 

In Ontario, for instance, health officials still say people should only gather outdoors with anyone outside their household.

What about hugging my unvaccinated grandchildren? 

This one is trickier. Chagla said yes, with a caveat. 

“Some caution should be given to kids who are immune compromised or vulnerable,” the doctor said. “Ultimately, it will be a while before vaccines are out for children. And recognizing that they are at lower risk of complications, and a fully-vaccinated individual is at low risk of transmission, it can be done with low (but not zero) risk.”

Sundaram recommended grandparents consider another factor: how many other contacts their grandchildren have. She said it may be smart to continue limiting time indoors with unvaccinated grandchildren or wearing masks to give everyone additional protection.

I’m fully vaccinated, but my child is not. Can we go out together?

Heather, a new mom on maternity leave, sent this question to CBC News. She is fully vaccinated and wanted to know if it’s safe to run errands — like go grocery shopping — with her two-month-old baby, who is too young to be vaccinated. 

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases doctor at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., answered Heather’s question during a recent segment on CBC News Network.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says the risk of transmitting COVID-19 within a group of fully-vaccinated people is almost nil. (Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti)

“When you have a baby that’s that young, part of the mom’s antibodies are still protecting the baby for a period of time,” Chakrabarti said. “So I’m not saying you want to take the baby into a factory where there could be multiple infected people, but I do think that that should be otherwise safe.

“The best way that we can protect young children is for there to be low community transmission — and that’s what we have. And thankfully, even if the odd child has contracted COVID, generally they don’t get very sick from it.”

Sundaram said the question of what fully-vaccinated parents can do with their unvaccinated children is a challenging one and that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Here are a few things the epidemiologist suggested families consider:

  • Children are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19 than older people;

  • There has been some reduction in vaccine effectiveness on the variants of concern, but that reduction is minimized two weeks after a person’s second dose;

  • The small possibility that a fully-vaccinated person contracts COVID-19 is influenced by other factors, including whether their children or teenagers have been exposed to places where the virus might be circulating — indoor settings, crowded places and buildings with bad ventilation.

What if some people only have one dose or can’t be vaccinated at all?

Jackie wrote in to ask whether it’s safe for her to spend time with groups of fully-vaccinated people. She says she can’t get any of the vaccines because she has life-threatening allergies to the ingredients. 

“I always say, there’s no such thing as zero risk,” Chakrabarti said. “But I think overall, pragmatically looking at it, if you have someone who is unvaccinated, being in a group of fully-vaccinated people, the risk of transmission is very small, and certainly [the risk of] severe disease is very small.

“That is exactly what herd immunity is, and it’s what we’re going to be seeing — the herd protecting those individuals who are unable to get vaccinated for whatever reason,” Chakrabarti said.

Can I take off my mask now? 

Chakrabarti answered this question on CBC News Network too, and his answer was yes, if you’re in a setting with other people who are also fully vaccinated.

“Two weeks after your second dose, the risk of you transmitting is substantially reduced to the point where if you’re with a group of people who are fully vaccinated, there’s almost no risk of transmission.”

Have a question?

Send your questions to [email protected] or leave them in the comments.

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