More than a 1.4 million Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and many are wondering what’s safe for them now.
Can they hug their grandkids? Can they have dinner with the neighbours? Can they travel?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will reportedly release new guidelines for vaccinated people soon. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has told media that fully vaccinated people can socialize with each other.
Canada has yet to offer such advice. Right now, our official national guidance calls for the current public health measures (masking, distancing, etc.) to continue as though nothing has changed.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, a University of Alberta infectious diseases specialist, feels the current rules need to continue in public spaces, but private homes are a different matter.
“It’s probably reasonably safe for (vaccinated) people who have not had a lot of exposures recently to gather a little more normally.”
She points out the latest data shows the COVID-19 vaccines are highly protective even a few weeks after the first dose.
Saxinger says if everyone in a group has had the shot at least a month ago, and they have clean hands and the room has decent ventilation, an in-home gathering would be OK.
“Would you be able to take off your mask and eat in a group of people… if everyone’s been vaccinated and no one has had any big exposures lately? I think that’s reasonable,” said Saxinger.
“Can you feel a little more comfortable getting a hug from a loved one that you haven’t had a hug from for a long time? I think that you can.”
In an email to Global News, McMaster University infectious diseases physician Dr. Zain Chagla adds:
“Individual activities with a discrete group of vaccinated individuals does make sense. They likely are at low risk of transmission (not zero risk) plus even if they were to transmit, they are at very low risk of complications/hospitalization/death.”
But both Saxinger and Chagla remind vaccinated people that even though they are likely protected, they could still carry the virus to others who are not.
“I think that risk (of transmission) goes down a lot if everyone you’re interacting with has been both careful and vaccinated,” said Saxinger.
“I think it becomes part of the great odds game that is current life.”
Until we have official guidelines, it’s up to individual Canadians to weigh the risks versus the benefits of their post-vaccination activities.
Dr. Roger McIntyre, a University of Toronto professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, feels mental health needs to be part of the discussion.
“(The pandemic) is terribly stressful, so I think to the extent we can, let’s try and get people, once they’re vaccinated, let’s start to reconnect,” said McIntyre.
“Just brief contacts do a world of difference with reducing distress, reducing loneliness and improving a sense of well-being.”
As for travelling outside of Canada, Saxinger feels it won’t be safe until most of the world is vaccinated.
“A lot of the places people like to go are places that have not had excellent access to vaccines, and no vaccine makes you bulletproof,” said Saxinger.
In the meantime, she encourages those who have had the shot to relax a bit.
“I definitely think people should start enjoying (the vaccine protection). Not necessarily flaunting it to people who have not been vaccinated, but enjoying it.”