It's one of the most frequent questions that Minnesota doctors have faced during the COVID-19 vaccine's roll out:
When can I visit my grandchildren?
The happy answer came on Monday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those who are "fully vaccinated" can now safely gather indoors, with no masks and no distancing, with those from a single household who are healthy but unvaccinated. In other words, let the visits to grandchildren commence. Go to it, Grandma and Grandpa.
The new CDC guidance, much anticipated as vaccination rates climb, offers yet another reason to seek out the shots. Immunization protects against severe COVID symptoms and death from the virus. Now, those who are fully vaccinated can take a big step back toward normal social gatherings. This should help spur vaccine holdouts to take action.
Eligibility for the vaccine is still limited due to supply, but people age 65 and up were given early priority because they're at high risk of hospitalization and death. As of Sunday, 69% of those 75 and older nationwide have had at least one shot. The number for those 65 and up is also impressive: 59%. Overall, 23% of American adults have had their first vaccine.
Those who have been vaccinated understandably wanted official guidance on what's safe and what's not after being jabbed. The CDC appropriately stopped well short of lifting all precautions. It still advises against nonessential travel, and masking and other precautions are still recommended when going out in public.
But the agency did deliver welcome clarity and flexibility on something high on many seniors' wish lists — socializing in person. The agency greenlighted get-togethers indoors, with no masks or social distancing, when all gathered have been fully immunized. Those fully vaccinated can also forgo mitigation measures during indoor visits with healthy family who haven't gotten the shots yet.
A dose of responsibility is still important even as guidelines ease. CDC officials stressed "fully vaccinated" during the announcement. Whether you meet this depends on two key factors: what vaccine you had and how much time has passed since it was given.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are given in a two-shot series, and people must receive both. In contrast, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot.
Time is another essential component of being "fully vaccinated." Your immune system needs to rev up after immunization. Two weeks is recommended. To be clear, that means two weeks after the second Pfizer or Moderna shot.
Many people are likely disappointed that the CDC still advises against nonessential trips even for those who are vaccinated. A concern is travel's role in spreading new, more highly transmissible variants of the COVID virus. A Minnesota outbreak of one of these variants, announced Friday among Carver County residents, underscores the need for caution.
The new flexibility around social gatherings is a good first step, with further easing likely if cases remain under control and vaccination momentum continues. Masking and other mitigation, where appropriate, will speed this along. So will signing up for the shots as soon as possible as both supply and eligibility expand.