The news that New York State would finally be able to open a vaccination site at the Stony Brook Southampton college campus came as a welcome source of excitement for many on the East End, and it followed on the heels of several joyful weeks in which Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and several of the towns themselves were able to set up vaccination points of distribution in our communities. Many in our communities, including a significant portion of our most vulnerable populations, such as those over 65 or with chronic medical conditions, have been able to start the vaccination process against Covid-19, and I know they and their families are resting easier because of it.
Not surprisingly, many people who are now vaccinated are curious as to how it changes their lives in terms of day-to-day activities. What can you do once you are vaccinated that you couldn't do before?
To start, according to Governor Cuomo's press conference on March 3, New Yorkers who are vaccinated and within 90 days of completing their second dose (if they received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccination series) no longer need to quarantine or test out with negative Covid-19 tests when traveling into New York from a non-contiguous state or having been out of state for more than 24 hours. (That requirement will be eliminated for all people starting next Thursday.) In addition, according to the New York State Department of Health, people who are fully vaccinated — meaning those who are more than two weeks past their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or their only dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine — no longer need to quarantine after exposure to someone with Covid-19, although they should still monitor for symptoms and take all appropriate precautions in terms of hygiene and distancing in public.
These changes don't mean that you should instantly start traveling nonstop if you've been vaccinated; while preliminary data indicate vaccination leads to lower transmission rates, asymptomatic transmission may still be possible, so some caution is still advised.
With regard to day-to-day life, some restrictions can certainly be eased for vaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask when spending time indoors with other vaccinated people, and they can choose to do the same with a small group of unvaccinated individuals (such as family members) who are at low risk for severe Covid-19, such as those who are under 65 and do not have co-morbidities like heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
Vaccinated people should still, however, wear a mask whenever out in public and continue to follow social distancing guidelines and strict hand hygiene to decrease overall transmission. This is particularly important as we enter a period in which more and more variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are appearing, and we don't yet have sufficient data regarding how much protection these initial vaccinations will offer against those variants. Moreover, we still aren't sure, particularly with a mutating viral landscape, how long robust immunity will last after vaccination. Consider, for example, that yearly influenza vaccinations are required in order to keep up with seasonal mutations in that virus; if the same holds true with the novel coronavirus, maintaining vigilance through the next few months is of paramount importance in terms of keeping people as safe as possible.
That being said, the huge amount of work that has been done to get so many people vaccinated, especially our most at-risk groups, and therefore take a few steps forward toward normalcy has been incredible. As a physician whose life professionally and personally has been defined in the past year in the context of this pandemic, I cannot fully explain the immense gratitude I have for everyone working to deliver these vaccines and the sense of relief for my patients who can breathe a little easier once they are vaccinated.
If you or someone you care for is eligible to receive the vaccine but has not yet gotten one, go to New York's Am I Eligible web page to find a state-run site near you. The county maintains a list of its own vaccination sites, which are distinct from those run by the state, at vax4.suffolkcountyny.gov. Appointments at pharmacies and hospitals and other medical offices must be made directly through those providers.
Joshua Potter, D.O., a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.