You got your final jab of a COVID-19 vaccine and waited the two weeks for full protection. Massachusetts has lifted all coronavirus restrictions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared fully vaccinated people safe to resume all activities — without a mask or 6-foot distancing.
But on an individual level, questions linger, heightened by 16 months of hypervigilance.
It’s impossible to know who has received shots and who has not, making it difficult to assess the risks of mingling with individuals who may be unvaccinated. Questions also abound for those with children under 12, for whom the vaccine has not been approved.
The Globe spoke with three infectious diseases doctors at local hospitals and universities to answer common concerns.
I’m vaccinated. What are the risks of coming into close contact with an unvaccinated individual, indoors and outside?
According to Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the risks for a vaccinated individual who meets with an unvaccinated individual are “very, very low.”
“They can’t be said to be zero, but they’re very, very low,” he said. “Outdoors, the risk is probably zero.”
Indoors, the risk is also low, Kuritzkes said. Only in crowded rooms with a chance of contact with numerous unvaccinated individuals, like auditoriums, might it still make sense to wear a mask for extra protection.
Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, founding director of the Boston University Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy & Research, said that another individual’s vaccination status is “not a risk” to those who are vaccinated, so long as they are otherwise healthy.
“For individuals, if you’re vaccinated, others who are unvaccinated around you are less of a risk to you — unless you are an immunocompromised person. That’s the only caveat,” she said.
Kuritzkes cautioned that some of his advice is specific to Massachusetts, where vaccination rates are high and case rates are low.
In Massachusetts, a vaccinated individual contracting COVID-19 from an unvaccinated individual is “like catching influenza in the summer in a normal year,” he said.
“It’d be different if you decided to go to Texas or to some place where there’s a smaller number of people who are vaccinated and if they’re still having significant numbers of cases,” Kuritzkes explained. “Then, wearing a mask might be more important to be absolutely certain that you are protected.”
I’m vaccinated, but should I still be worried about the possibility of infecting my kids?
“It’s highly unlikely,” Kuritzkes said. “I don’t think it’s something people really need to be very concerned about.”
According to Bhadelia, studies have shown that vaccinated individuals who nonetheless become infected still benefit from the vaccine. For example, they tend to have less virus in their airway, which lowers the likelihood of transmission to their children.
“Even if they end up getting infected, it is unlikely that they will transmit that to other people because the amount of virus may be low,” she said.
Dr. Helen Boucher, chief of geographic medicine and infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center, said the best thing we could do for our kids is to get vaccinated.
“I think those of us who are fully vaccinated pose a very low risk to our kids who are unvaccinated children,” Boucher said.
I have a child under 12 who cannot be vaccinated. What precautions should I take to keep them safe?
For most outdoor activities, children should be safe without masks. But for outdoor crowds or indoor activities, experts say that children should continue to wear face masks.
“In indoor settings, particularly, or crowded outdoor settings like a ballpark or an outdoor concert, where people are packed in tightly, they should continue to wear masks,” Kuritzkes said. “I don’t think they need to wear masks if they’re going to be at a family gathering where people have been vaccinated.”
If only some adults at the gathering have been vaccinated, the need for children to wear masks depends on where the unvaccinated individuals have been and what activities they have engaged in, he said.
“That would be an area where I would still be cautious,” Kuritzkes concluded. “You take your children with you safely, but I think they should be wearing masks if they’re unvaccinated.”
What about hugs, handshakes, and high-fives?
Experts agree that it’s safe to have close contact such as a hug with other vaccinated individuals. But the jury is out on the unvaccinated.
“If you and the other person are fully vaccinated — that is, more than two weeks after your final dose — then risk is low,” said Boucher, of Tufts.
“If only one person is vaccinated and the other person is not vaccinated, then the risk is a little bit higher,” she added. “In my personal practices, if I’m coming in contact with people who are not vaccinated, I wouldn’t have close contact.”
But Bhadelia said that a hug between a vaccinated individual and an unvaccinated individual is “fine.”
“The vaccinated person is unlikely to get sick from the unvaccinated person because they’re protected. It’s unlikely in that setting, unless you’re immunocompromised,” she said.
The unvaccinated person is also unlikely to get sick, since the vaccinated person has a very low risk of contracting or transmitting the virus.
“Hugging relatives is probably minimal risk,” Kuritzkes agreed. “I’d be a little more skeptical about handshaking just as a form of social greeting. But I think if you’re going to hug your relatives, and you’re vaccinated, I think that’s fine.”
How close are we to a full return to normal life?
According to Kuritzkes, for a vaccinated adult who is not immunocompromised and lives in a household without children, this summer should basically resemble life before the pandemic.
“But if you choose not to do that, that’s okay,” Bhadelia, of BU, said. “Take your time. We’ve been through a heck of a year.”
Boucher said she is “very optimistic” about the future — so long as vaccination rates continue to increase.
“The infection numbers continue to decline, the vaccination numbers are going up,” Boucher said. “The weather is good and there’s lots of ways to get outside so I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a much better summer than last summer.”
Camille Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.