(WETM/NEXSTAR) — So your pal is vaccinated against COVID-19, but you’ve yet to be immunized. Is it safe to travel in a car with them?
According to William B. Greenough, a professor emeritus of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, we don’t quite know yet.
Greenough, who’s known widely for his work on cholera, said there has yet to be a definitive study determining the effectiveness of the vaccine at halting transmission of the virus. Though we know both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective at preventing COVID infections, we don’t yet know if that means vaccinated individuals can be carriers.
“When someone is vaccinated, it’s very likely, but not proven, that they’re not going to carry or transmit the virus anywhere as much as an unvaccinated person,” Greenough said.
His guess — and it’s a guess, he stipulated — “is it’s probably fairly safe to travel with an immunized person.”
“It would be very safe, however, if the immunized person wore a mask,” he said.
Greenough recommends that anytime you’re in a car with someone outside your immediate household — vaccinated or not — wear a mask and avoid hugging, handshakes and other kinds of contact.
The steady decline of COVID-19 cases across the country and the ongoing vaccination effort has led to updated interim guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. After a stark increase in cases after the holidays, February and early March has brought fewer cases across the country.
You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL
“If you have everybody together in the same room in a small group and they’re all vaccinated, you’re essentially creating a small micro-environment that is considered herd immunity,” Arnot Health infectious disease expert Dr. Justin Nistico added.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last dose of the vaccine. The primary goal of the vaccination effort is to achieve herd immunity, which is when the significant majority of the population is vaccinated, eradicating the threat of disease. Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss told 18 News that after this weekend, they expect the county to be 15 percent vaccinated.
The CDC, historically, has been cautious with COVID guidelines. This announcement indicates the vaccine is working to prevent disease. These guidelines are for people who are fully vaccinated, meaning those who received the second dose of the mRNA-based Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson and Johnson. After receiving the final dose of the mRNA shots, peak immunity is achieved after 14 days. With the single-dose vaccine, studies show you need to wait 28 days to have the full effects.
While these guidelines are a step in the right direction, the world is not out of the woods quite yet. Local health experts are encouraged by this news, as the spring and summer months approach.
“The CDC tends to be cautious and because of that Dr. Fauci tends to be cautious, so I think it’ll be incremental steps and whether it’ll be every few weeks or every few months we’ll have to see,” Dr. Michael Scalzone of Guthrie Health said. “Coronavirus has a seasonal pattern. If we add vaccination, being outdoors and seasonality, I think those things together really could make a difference in the next couple of months.”
“We have more data that shows that in real life, these vaccines are quite protective,” University of Rochester professor of medicine Dr. Ghinwa Dumyati said.
There are a few important things to note with this change. Dr. Nistico added that even if you are vaccinated, people still need to wear masks in public spaces and maintain social distance.
“Just because you’ve been vaccinated doesn’t mean that the person going to visit or you’re behind in the grocery store line has been vaccinated,” Moss added.
Why did the CDC change course now?
” Our numbers are much better. It’s really I think a testament to a lot of the work people have done,” Dr. Nistico said.
“Again, this is kind of a carrot because if you get vaccinated, then you could do more things that you were not able to do before.” Dr. Dumyati concluded. “This is not the right time to let your guard down. We have to be careful. For unvaccinated people. You still have to follow all the guidance.”
The CDC is continuing to recommend that fully vaccinated people still wear well-fitted masks, avoid large gatherings, and physically distance themselves from others when out in public. The CDC also advised vaccinated people to get tested if they develop symptoms that could be related to COVID-19.
The CDC guidance did not speak on people who may have gained some level of immunity from being infected, and recovering from, the coronavirus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.