Help! I’m Vaccinated, but What Do I Need to Know to Protect Others?

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I’ve had my first vaccination shot and plan to book a flight to California two weeks after my second one. Like so many others, I have not seen my grandchildren for more than 15 months, during which time the baby became a toddler and the preschooler became a young boy. Now that some of us are getting successfully vaccinated and are planning on flying to see our families, I have a few questions that I’m hoping you can clear up. Margot

1. Is it safe to travel by subway, train, bus or plane after I have been vaccinated? What are the proper protocols for protecting others?

Even before the vaccines arrived, mass transit was rarely labeled by health officials with blanket terms like “safe” or “unsafe.” Studies conducted over the summer suggested that when certain criteria are met, subways are safer, from a viral-transmission standpoint, than one might assume. A trove of new research indicates that the chance of contracting the coronavirus while flying is low. For trains and planes alike, the focus is — and will continue to be — concrete, actionable measures that mitigate risk, like high-efficiency air filtration, enhanced disinfection, mask requirements, social distancing and capacity limits.

With that in mind, let’s rephrase your first question:

“It is safer for her, as the individual, to travel that way, and not herself get sick,” said Keri N. Althoff, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, deliberately emphasizing those italicized words.

“We know that vaccines protect the person who has been vaccinated from getting really, really sick to the point of hospitalization or death,” Dr. Althoff said. “But we don’t know whether or not a vaccinated person can still become infected and transmit either asymptomatic infection or very mild unnoticed infection. We’re still waiting for the data.”

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