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Are 'immunity bubbles' safe for vaccinated people?

Experts weigh in on the latest iteration of pods or bubbles, which aim to provide social interaction as people become fully vaccinated.

As the vaccine rollout continues, some people are considering forming "immunity bubbles," a new twist on pandemic pods, as a safe way to interact with their fully vaccinated peers.

Experts cautioned that if you do want to create such a bubble with people outside of your household, you should make sure that everyone is fully vaccinated, which means they've received both doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and have waited the recommended two weeks after the second dose. However, once a person is fully vaccinated, it would be safe for them to interact with other fully vaccinated people.

"The risk is not zero, but the risk is markedly decreased," said Dr. Bill Moss, a pediatrician and professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, noting that even if people did contract COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated they're much more likely to only experience asymptomatic or mild cases of the disease. "That would be a group of people who are at very, very low risk of getting severe disease ... I think that's a reasonable thing for people to be doing."

Who can I see once I've been vaccinated?

For now, experts recommend continuing to be cautious, by wearing masks and social distancing outdoors, if you're seeing people who aren't vaccinated.

While the coronavirus vaccines are extremely effective, it's still possible to contract the disease, and there isn't data just yet on whether the vaccines prevent transmission of the virus, meaning that a vaccinated person might still be able to spread it to an unvaccinated person.

However, if you've been vaccinated and are seeing other vaccinated people, there's less need for precautions when with those people.

"If you have a cluster of people, all of whom are vaccinated, they could feel much more comfortable with social interaction," said Dr. Sten Vermund, a pediatrician and dean of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. "... You have a tremendous degree of security which rivals physical distancing, masking and hand hygiene. Having groups of people, all of whom are vaccinated, is potentially a very viable return to some degree to social normality ... If everybody were vaccinated, an (immunity bubble) could include an entire nursing home or an entire social group."

What activities are safe?

For those who are vaccinated, most daily activities will be safer than they were before, but Moss said that people who are in an immunization bubble should do what they can to keep that bubble relatively solid. That might mean gathering at a friend's home, where you know everyone's vaccination status, instead of going to a busy restaurant, where you may not know if other diners have been vaccinated.

"People creating immunity bubbles should be staying at home," he said.

What precautions should you continue to take?

When outside your bubble, experts advise continuing to wear masks, social distance and limit the number of people you gather with. If you are fully vaccinated and exposed to someone who has the coronavirus within three months of your vaccination, you do not need to quarantine as long as you do not exhibit symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though there is still a risk a fully vaccinated person could contract and thus transmit the virus.

"(After vaccination), there's still a risk, and people can still get infected and they can still get the disease," said Moss. "There's a risk of transmitting, even though it's low."

Vermund said that while studies on post-vaccination transmission are being conducted around the world, experts still recommend wearing your mask and limiting contact with non-vaccinated people outside of your household.

Vermund said that these temporary measures will help slow the spread of the virus while the vaccine rollout continues. The eventual goal is to reach a state of herd immunity, where the virus cannot spread or circulate easily, which would mean that precautions would not be necessary.

"Our goal is to get everybody vaccinated," said Vermund. "If we can get to 80% (vaccination rates), we think that we can achieve herd immunity, so that the probability of an infectious person encountering a susceptible person drops, and the viral networks diminish, and you see a radical reduction in the incidence of virus so that it gets to very, very low levels. And if that's the case, then maybe all of society could return to normal."