Opinion | Hang Out With Your Vaccinated Friends

Still waiting for your Covid-19 vaccine dose? Here’s one way to stay safe and keep cases down until your appointment.

By Zoë M. McLaren

Dr. McLaren is an associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who studies policies to combat infectious disease epidemics, including Covid-19.

The Covid-19 vaccines are a medical marvel. But many people are still waiting their turn to get vaccinated. Right now, with more infectious variants spreading and no authorized vaccine for children, the risks of Covid-19 to unvaccinated people remain high.

While much of the national conversation has focused on what vaccinated people can do, it’s also the case that the unvaccinated can take advantage of the protection that many of their friends and neighbors now have. The social benefits of vaccination can also extend to those still waiting for their dose.

Before I got my Johnson & Johnson vaccination, I slowly expanded my close contacts to spend time unmasked and indoors with my fully vaccinated friends, while taking standard precautions otherwise. It’s a relatively safe way to make the pandemic more bearable for all of us while also keeping cases down.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the vaccines not only protect against severe illness, but also greatly reduce the risk of mild and asymptomatic cases, so they help prevent overall transmission too. Vaccinated people can get infected, but it is rare.

That means that for an unvaccinated person, spending time with a fully vaccinated person unmasked and indoors is far safer than the same contact with another unvaccinated person. While I wait for my vaccine to take full effect, I can reduce my personal risk of Covid-19 by socializing with vaccinated friends rather than unvaccinated friends.

The C.D.C. recently updated its guidelines to reflect new evidence that unmasked, indoor contact between fully vaccinated people and a single household of unvaccinated people is fairly safe, as long as none of the unvaccinated people or anyone they live with are at high risk for severe Covid-19 and the gathering size is small. Recently, we’ve seen many joyful unmasked, indoor reunions of fully vaccinated grandparents with their unvaccinated grandchildren.

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