Coronavirus FAQ: I just got a booster. Can I … return to normal?

Each week, we answer frequently asked questions about life during the corona crisis. If you have a question you would like us to consider for a future post, please email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: “Weekly Coronavirus Questions.” See an archive of our frequently asked questions here.

My trip to a booster is approaching! Can I go crazy and leave my mask at home once I’m given a shot, or do I still have to take the same precautions?

Nurse Sandra Lindsay celebrates after receiving her COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine booster at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York on October 6th.  Lindsay was the first person known to receive a COVID vaccine in the US vaccination campaign - on December 14, 2020. Her vaccination card will be displayed at the COVID-19 exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Nurse Sandra Lindsay celebrates after receiving her COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine booster at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York on October 6th. Lindsay was the first person known to receive a COVID vaccine in the US vaccination campaign – on December 14, 2020. Her vaccination card will be displayed at the COVID-19 exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Ge

With more Americans getting COVID-19 boosters these days than the first shots, and many more potentially becoming eligible, as the FDA is currently considering Pfizer’s request to approve its booster to the general population, the number of people enjoying the boost is rising vaccine status.

But what exactly does the new status give you? We spoke with Charlotte Baker, assistant professor of epidemiology at Virginia Tech, and Abaar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University, to find out.

What a booster means, they say, is that you’ve got your best layer of protection – your vaccine – back in good condition. Recent research has shown that vaccines decrease over time (for example, a recent study showed that Pfizer dropped from 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infection initially to 70 percent after five months), but that boosters work well to increase your antibody protection. . (Note that you still have to wait until after the 2-week waiting period – just like the first time, our experts emphasize, your new jab will not reach maximum efficiency until about two weeks later).

But even after that, Baker and Karan encourage you to keep your masks. And certainly do not stop washing your hands! With the cold and flu season on the rise, wearing a mask on the go can protect you from a variety of bacteria. In fact, after your booster, you may be more prone to catching a cold or flu than COVID-19.

“It’s still the same precautions, but the fact is, you’ve just improved your immunity,” Baker says. “So if you’re someone who’s not really high risk, you may feel a little better with your chances of getting COVID.”

More good news: There’s no reason to stay in lockdown mode, Baker says. If you are booster-protected and healthy enough that the flu would not pose a serious risk and you feel like going out, then go for it.

“If you’re thinking, okay, I want to start getting a little bit back out there in the world, I do not see a problem with that,” Baker says. While this may not sound like a resounding endorsement, Baker himself, who has been extremely cautious during the pandemic, recently reserved a dinner reservation. Depending on your level of risk tolerance, you may want to look for restaurants that take precautions such as physical distance, dining on the patio, requiring masks when not actively eating. Or avoid crowds by leaving in the low season, she suggests.

You can take similar precautions in gyms and cinemas; going outside peak times can make a particularly big difference in the number of people – and the level of risk.

“The bottom line is that we are no longer locked in,” she says. And your mental health needs are also important, especially if you have already used significant parts of the pandemic separate from your loved ones. “If you want to go out, go out. Just be sure of it.”

It also means staying on top of local data, she and Karan point out.

“If you have low proliferation rates [in your area] and are fully boosted, I think you can consider it unlikely that you will get COVID-19, says Karan. “If the rates are high, then of course there is still a chance … but you will be extremely unlikely to get serious illness.”

(For help weighing your risks, see our questionnaire.)

If you find that you have come in contact with someone who was found to be infected, people with boosters should follow the same CDC instructions as they did before: Get tested 5-7 days after exposure.

Ready to roll up your sleeves again? You may not have to wait long: Boosters for all vaccinated Americans 18 years and older may be here before Thanksgiving.

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance health journalist in Minneapolis. She has written about COVID-19 in many publications, including New York Times, Kaiser Health News, Medscape and Washington Post. More at sheilaeldred.pressfolios.com. On Twitter: @milepostmedia

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