Every day more and more Coloradans receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The state also continues to lift coronavirus-related restrictions. But the path to normalcy still appears like it will be bumpy and filled with uncertainty.
Is it safe to travel after you are fully inoculated? Can you move about more after getting your first vaccine dose? Are events in small spaces a good idea at this time? We asked local infectious disease experts those questions and more to help make sense of vaccine efficacy and what Colorado’s gradual reopening could look like.
Immunity: What’s safe after each dose?
While it may be tempting to move about more freely after getting the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (it does offer some immunity), UCHealth infectious disease specialist Dr. Michelle Barron advises against it. “I think it gives people a false sense of security,” she says. For Barron, it’s worth waiting for the second dose—especially when the risks include contracting COVID-19 after the first shot and delaying the chance to get fully immunized.
Ultimately, Barron says you need to wait until two weeks after your second shot for the vaccine to be most effective, about 90 percent immunity. “If you’re going to be liberal at all with your activities, it shouldn’t be in the first two weeks [after the second shot],” Barron says. “Even though these are highly protected and keep you out of the hospital, it is not a 100 percent guarantee that you won’t get sick.”
The same two-week rule applies to the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has about a 66 percent efficacy rate. The distribution for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily paused in Colorado this week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, after it potentially caused blood clots for six recipients in other states. But Barron says, “There’s still just not a lot of information regarding whether it’s even related to the vaccine.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) needs time to investigate the reported cases, and Barron encourages anyone experiencing symptoms—headaches, blurred vision, double vision, slurred speech, fainting spells, and coordination issues—to report them to their health care provider. Overall, Barron doesn’t think this pause will greatly impact Colorado’s current vaccine distribution since the state’s supply is mostly Moderna and Pfizer.
Travel: Can I take that vacation now?
Just two weeks ago, the CDC updated its domestic travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people: That group no longer needs to show a negative COVID-19 test before a trip or self quarantine after returning. Travelers with immunity are still required to wear a mask and social distance when possible. When it comes to taking trips, Barron says, “Everything is going to have some level of risk and some level of convenience. It’s a function of sort of balancing those two things.”
While Barron thinks traveling by plane can be safe, situations like crowding at the airport or passengers pulling down their masks while eating and drinking on planes can be difficult to avoid. “Car travel obviously it’s going to be the situation in which you can control the most,” she says.
If you make that long-awaited trip overseas, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment encourages people to take a COVID-19 test three to five days after arriving back in the Centennial State. Health officials are also still advising against nonessential travel for those who are not vaccinated.
Socializing: Can I hang out with my friends or attend shows?
Two weeks after being fully vaccinated, the CDC says that gathering indoors with other vaccinated folks without masks is finally OK to do. “Assuming that no one is symptomatic,” Barron says, you can finally visit Grandma or hang out with friends.
In addition to spending time with loved ones, Barron says attending concerts at venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre—which is reopening to concertgoers on April 23—is safe after complete vaccination. “I think being outside also gives you that added layer of protection because you have air flow that’s constant, rather than what’s required in a specific type of building where, depending on the age of the building, you don’t really know how many air changes are occurring at any given time,” she says. However, Barron says attending a show or event in an indoor venue is probably OK, depending on your comfort level.
Protection: How long will I have to wear a mask?
In early April, Governor Jared Polis released 34 Colorado counties with dwindling COVID-19 case numbers from the statewide mask mandate that had been in effect since July 2020. Counties not included in the list—like Arapahoe, Jefferson, Boulder, and Denver—are still required to mask up.
Whether a mandate for face coverings exists in your county or not, Dr. Jared Eddy, an infectious disease expert at National Jewish Health, is a proponent of people continuing to wear masks—at least until we know exactly how effective the vaccine is against other variants of COVID-19.
Even though 1.3 million Coloradan are already fully vaccinated, hospitalizations are increasing. “We still have to be careful because there’s still a huge amount of virus in the population,” he says. “And we’re dealing with more infectious variants.”
In addition, he thinks masking up is one of the best ways Coloradans can show they care about others. “We are still mostly protecting the vulnerable people in the population, who could develop severe disease or death. And many of those people have been vaccinated, but by no means all of them,” he says. “What does it cost you to keep wearing a mask? Very little compared to the potential to stop the spread of the pandemic and save more lives.”