When can fully vaccinated older adults see family and friends again?

Families/Kids Socializing

A: Full vaccination status (2 doses + 1-2 weeks) provides an additional layer of protection, but is not a silver bullet.

Thankfully, existing COVID-19 vaccines drastically reduces the risk of severe infection and death. It’s not clear yet how much the vaccines reduce asymptomatic infection or transmission. Risk mitigation strategies (maintain space, wear masks, outdoor air, restrict your network, keep visits short) won’t go away overnight. Think of your return to activities on a scale from lower risk to higher risk instead of an on/off switch to help guide your expectations and actions.

When the people you wish to engage with are not vaccinated, it’s best to maintain as many risk mitigation strategies as possible, including staying put. For now, demand for the vaccine continues to exceed supply and children under 16 are ineligible for existing vaccines. This creates tricky situations around who can safely be near whom. While it is hard to control the vaccination status of others, you can add on the risk reduction strategies as the situation requires.

Let’s consider a few scenarios for fully vaccinated individuals we get asked about often: visiting with grandchildren, dining with people from another household, and traveling.

Visiting with grandchildren

Unvaccinated family members are unlikely to cause severe cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated older adults *BUT* transmission of infection is still possible across all visitors. The risk of infection to the vaccinated adult is pretty low (but not impossible) and the risk of severe disease is even lower. In reality, very few families are fully vaccinated at this time, especially as there is currently no vaccine available to children under 16. Unvaccinated family members should not congregate in groups from multiple households. Visits with vaccinated older adults and family with mixed vaccination status are safer if you keep networks as small as possible, continue to wear masks, and establish a frequent testing routine. We would not advise hosting a large family reunion just yet to avoid unvaccinated family members from catching the virus and potentially becoming very ill. If full vaccination is on the horizon, hold that visit for a few more weeks! You can do it!

Dining with people from another household

Dining with other vaccinated individuals presents less risk to the participants than dining with (or around) unvaccinated individuals. If you decide to go out to eat, remember that most people around you are not vaccinated. Bring your mask and continue your social distancing when dining in public. Sit down meals, particularly indoors, still pose significant risks to unvaccinated guests. Zoom cocktails and outdoor distanced meet ups will be necessary for a little longer when in the company of unvaccinated loved ones.


Travel plans still require careful consideration once vaccinated. A drive to visit a vaccinated friend in their home is safer than a multi-generational airplane ride to a shared beach house. Vaccinated individuals carry protection for severe infection themselves, but may still contribute to transmission among others – loved ones AND the hospitality and travel professionals they encounter. When planning that first glorious get away, pack the mask, keep activities distanced, and skip destinations and events that violate SMART guidelines.

Hang in there!! The social isolation, missed family gatherings, and cancelled social events really hurt. Let’s keep our eye on the prize. Personal protection from severe COVID-19 complications after vaccination is a beautiful thing! Once coupled with declining community transmission and increased vaccination rates, we can slowly move towards more normal interactions with the ones we love. When in doubt, up the risk reduction measures including skipping the event until a later date.

Those Nerdy Girls

Additional Reading

TODAY summary on when you can see extended family

NPR explainer on why masks and distancing are still needed after COVID-19 vaccination

Prior Related Dear Pandemic Posts

Do I need a mask after vaccination? (YES)

Can two vaccinated people spend time together unmasked? (MAYBE)

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