Should you quarantine if you have been vaccinated against COVID-19?

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the collective wisdom of the medical community was that everyone should self-quarantine for 14 days if exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID -19.

Now, however, 2 years of medical data and several vaccines later, we know a little more about COVID-19, vaccinations and quarantines.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed their recommended quarantine and isolation times for people vaccinated against COVID-19.

Keep reading to learn about the latest quarantine recommendations.

It is important to understand some definitions of commonly used phrases and words when discussing COVID-19 and quarantine.

The first two sentences concern the vaccination status:

  • Fully vaccinated. A person is fully vaccinated if they have received their primary series COVID-19 vaccines. The first series of vaccines includes two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, two doses of the Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine.
  • Up to date. A person is up to date if they have received their full primary series of COVID-19 vaccines as well as all recommended booster doses. These people are “optimally protected”, according to the CDC.

There are also two terms to keep in mind when it comes to self-quarantine or social distancing after exposure to COVID-19:

  • Quarantine. A quarantine is a period of time when a person takes precautions to avoid exposing others to the coronavirus from close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. During quarantine, it is important to stay away from others to limit the spread of the virus. You also take precautions, such as wearing a mask, if you need to be around other people, and monitor for symptoms.
  • Insulation. Isolation requires strict separation from other people. The goal is to keep an infectious person away from people who aren’t infected, even in your own home.

It may also be helpful to understand the terms used to discuss exposure:

  • A exposure occurs if you come into contact with someone who has contracted the coronavirus.
  • close contact occurs when you are within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes in a 24 hour period.

According to CDCif you are vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19, you do not need to self-quarantine.

However, it is recommended to:

  • wear a properly fitted mask for 10 days after exposure
  • get tested on day 5 after exposure
  • self-quarantine immediately and get tested for COVID-19 if you develop symptoms

For clarity, the first day you were exposed is Day 0. Day 1 is considered the first full day after being in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

If you are not up to date on your vaccines, or if you are not vaccinated at all, the CDC recommends that you:

  • quarantine (stay home) for 5 days after any exposure
  • wear a properly fitted mask for 10 days, even when people are present in your home
  • avoid being around high-risk people (e.g. immunocompromised or older people)
  • don’t travel
  • get tested on day 5 and quarantine immediately if you develop symptoms

Below is a summary of quarantine recommendations if you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19:

All people who have a positive COVID-19 test must self-isolate for 5 days, regardless of their vaccination status, according to the CDC. This is true even if you don’t have symptoms.

If your symptoms go away and you no longer have a fever without using anti-fever medication for 24 hours, you can end the isolation.

However, you must wear a properly fitted mask for another 5 days when around people to minimize the risk of transmitting the coronavirus to others.

If you have a fever, stay in quarantine until the fever goes away.

If you have never had symptoms, you can end isolation after 5 days, but wear a mask for 5 days after isolation.

If you have had severe symptoms of COVID-19, it is recommended that you self-isolate for at least 10 days. Consult a doctor before ending isolation.

Day 0 is your first day of symptoms or the day you test positive. Day 1 is the first full day after you developed symptoms of COVID-19, or the day after your test sample was collected.

Everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, must complete the 5-day mask-wearing isolation period until day 10. You should also avoid all travel and contact with high-risk people.

Below is a summary of quarantine recommendations if you test positive for COVID-19:

A vaccine does not guarantee that you will not develop COVID-19 if you are exposed to the coronavirus. Instead, a vaccine aims to reduce the risk of:

  • contract the virus
  • have serious symptoms and complications of COVID-19, including death
  • requiring hospitalization

However, even the most protective vaccines are not 100% effective and it is possible to develop a breakthrough infection.

But vaccinated people who develop COVID-19 are less likely to suffer serious illness or require hospitalization. They are also less likely to die from the infection.

According to CDC, vaccine efficacy against hospitalization in healthy people who have received two doses of an mRNA vaccine (such as Pfizer or Moderna) is approximately 82%. Those who had a vaccine booster restore the effectiveness of the vaccine against hospitalization to 97%.

For those who are immunocompromised, the efficacy of the mRNA vaccine against hospitalization is 69% with two doses. A booster increases it to 88%.

As variants of the coronavirus grow and spread around the world, vaccination is an important tool to slow the spread and reduce the risk of a variant being resistant to current vaccines.

Vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 are likely to have milder symptoms. The duration of symptoms is also likely to be much shorter.

A study 2022 found that fully vaccinated people saw benefits both during the predominant period of the Delta variant and during the surge of the Omicron variant. Complete vaccination protected against infection and death during Delta, and against infection during Omicron. This was especially true among people aged 50 to 64 and people over 65.

These milder symptoms may include:

If you test positive for COVID-19, the best treatment depends on your symptoms. Most people can treat their symptoms at home and have no further problems. Typical self-care steps for COVID-19 include:

  • Rest. Stay home and get as much rest as possible. Working or going to school, even remotely, can be too taxing.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, including water, decaffeinated tea, and fruit juice.
  • Take medication as needed. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications like fever reducers for symptoms.

For some people, the antiviral remdesivir (Veklury) or intravenous monoclonal antibody therapy may be recommended. These are usually reserved for people at high risk of complications from COVID-19.

Vaccinated people are less likely to develop severe disease. However, if you test positive, watch for signs of worsening infection. These symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • pressure or pain in the chest
  • inability to stay awake or be alert
  • bluish tint to the lips or face
  • confusion or difficulty understanding

As healthcare professionals better understand COVID-19 and how vaccines affect how easily the virus spreads, guidance on quarantine and isolation is changing. Today, the CDC has less stringent quarantine requirements for people who have been vaccinated.

But the recommendations for isolation following a positive COVID-19 test remain the same, regardless of vaccination status.

It is important that everyone understands and follows isolation and quarantine best practices. This will help reduce the spread of the virus and potentially prevent hospitalizations and even deaths.

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