You've had your 2nd COVID-19 vaccine dose. What's safe to do now?
Can groups of fully vaccinated people get together indoors? What about their unvaccinated kids?
We're answering questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca — we'll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we've received more than 80,000 emails from all around the country and the world.
As more Canadians receive their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, many are eager to know: what can I do now?
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) provided some much-anticipated guidance on an infographic in late June, which says that small groups of fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing.
But there are still some important things to keep in mind. First, a person isn't considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after their second dose. Second, everyone's situation and risk level is a little bit different, and even doctors and epidemiologists are sometimes divided on what exactly is and isn't safe to do.
"You still need to follow local public health advice in public settings," like at work and on public transit, the government guidance says. "Their advice considers community risk levels."
The agency also says that people who are at a higher risk of severe illness or other complications should consider continuing to wear a mask and keep their distance for extra protection even after they've received their shots.
Here are some your common questions about what's safe to do once fully vaccinated, and what PHAC and other experts have to say.
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Is it safe for two people who are fully vaccinated to hug?
PHAC says that masks and distancing aren't necessary when small groups of people who are all fully vaccinated get together indoors. Other experts agree.
"The risk of transmission is very low, and the risk of complications are low even in the worst case scenario," Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases doctor and associate professor at McMaster University, told CBC News by email.
Are indoor gatherings with other fully vaccinated people OK?
PHAC's guidance covers this question specifically. No masks or physical distancing are necessary at small indoor gatherings of fully vaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated individuals are at a low risk of bringing COVID-19 into the environment — and even if someone does bring the virus, the other people there are at a reduced risk of actually acquiring it, Chagla said. There is also a lower risk of serious complications from the disease if someone does contract it.
Chagla added Canadians should continue to follow their local public health rules.
In Ontario, for instance, the rules still say that people should only gather outdoors with people outside their household, as of June 29. When Ontario moves into Stage 2 on June 30, indoor gatherings of up to five people are allowed.
What about hugging my unvaccinated grandchildren?
This one is trickier. Chagla said yes, with a caveat.
"Some caution should be given to kids who are immune compromised or vulnerable," the doctor said. "Ultimately, it will be a while before vaccines are out for children. And recognizing that they are at lower risk of complications, and a fully-vaccinated individual is at low risk of transmission, it can be done with low (but not zero) risk."
Maria Sundaram, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at ICES Ontario, a health-care research centre based at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, recommended grandparents consider another factor: how many other contacts their grandchildren have.
She said it may be smart to continue limiting time indoors with unvaccinated grandchildren or to continue wearing masks to give everyone additional protection.
PHAC says that fully vaccinated people who are at a higher risk of severe disease should consider wearing a mask and physically distancing when indoors with people who are partially vaccinated, unvaccinated, or whose vaccination status is unknown.
For outdoor gatherings, however, no mask or distancing is necessary.
I'm fully vaccinated, but my child is not. Can we go out together?
Heather, a new mom on maternity leave, sent this question to CBC News. She is fully vaccinated and wanted to know if it's safe to run errands — like go grocery shopping — with her two-month-old baby, who is too young to be vaccinated.
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases doctor at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., answered Heather's question during a recent segment on CBC News Network.
"When you have a baby that's that young, part of the mom's antibodies are still protecting the baby for a period of time," Chakrabarti said. "So I'm not saying you want to take the baby into a factory where there could be multiple infected people, but I do think that that should be otherwise safe.
"The best way that we can protect young children is for there to be low community transmission — and that's what we have. And thankfully, even if the odd child has contracted COVID, generally they don't get very sick from it."
Sundaram said the question of what fully vaccinated parents can do with their unvaccinated children is challenging and that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Here are a few things the epidemiologist suggested families consider:
Children are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19 than older people.
There has been some reduction in vaccine effectiveness on the variants of concern, but that reduction is minimized two weeks after a person's second dose.
The small possibility that a fully vaccinated person contracts COVID-19 is influenced by other factors, including whether their children or teenagers have been exposed to places where the virus might be circulating — indoor settings, crowded places and buildings with bad ventilation.
What if some people only have one dose or can't be vaccinated at all?
Jackie wrote in to ask whether it's safe for her to spend time with groups of fully vaccinated people. She says she can't get any of the vaccines because she has life-threatening allergies to the ingredients.
"Consider removing your mask and being physically close to the fully vaccinated individuals if everyone is comfortable with that, AND nobody is at risk of more severe disease or outcomes," PHAC says.
"I always say, there's no such thing as zero risk," Chakrabarti said. "But I think overall, pragmatically looking at it, if you have someone who is unvaccinated, being in a group of fully vaccinated people, the risk of transmission is very small, and certainly [the risk of] severe disease is very small.
"That is exactly what herd immunity is, and it's what we're going to be seeing — the herd protecting those individuals who are unable to get vaccinated for whatever reason," Chakrabarti said.
Can I take off my mask now?
Chakrabarti answered this question on CBC News Network too, and his answer was yes, if you're in a setting with other people who are also fully vaccinated.
"Two weeks after your second dose, the risk of you transmitting is substantially reduced to the point where if you're with a group of people who are fully vaccinated, there's almost no risk of transmission."
According to PHAC, it depends on whether you are indoors or outdoors and who you are with. Take a look at their infographic for more guidance on what to do in a range of scenarios.
Have a question?
Send your questions to COVID@cbc.ca or leave them in the comments.