As of early this week, more than 5,500 Pacificans had at least one COVID-19 vaccination. What is next for vaccinated residents?

San Mateo County has not yet released its full guidance for vaccinated people, but Public Information Officer Preston Merchant said it’s forthcoming. For now, the county’s website warns about the potential risks of spreading the virus even after being vaccinated, telling residents to keep up with current health precautions.

“Even after vaccination, you should continue to follow all of the guidelines from the state and the county,” a county Frequently Asked Questions section reads.

That includes staying at home as much as possible, isolating if you’re sick or have been exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, wearing a mask, washing your hands and maintaining social distancing.

This guidance is in line with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health. Both say that continuing safety precautions is important because it’s not yet clear if the vaccines, which are around 95 percent effective against symptomatic disease, prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Plus, there’s still not enough information about whether vaccines are fully effective against new variants.

The CDC updated its guidance last week. It recommends that people who were vaccinated two or more weeks ago but no more than three months ago don’t have to quarantine if they come into contact with someone with COVID-19 but have no symptoms.

California’s Health Department has followed suit with its recommendations, advising fully vaccinated people to still watch for symptoms and get tested if they emerge.

So far, that’s the only exception being made for vaccinated people. Local, state and federal health leaders say their advice takes into consideration uncertainty around the vaccine’s effectiveness against variants, how long the protection lasts and whether it actually prevents infection or just severe symptoms.

“We don't have data to prove that having the vaccine can prevent you from getting infected and transmitting the disease at this time,” Stanford University Associate Professor of Medicine Holly Tabor said at a recent Stanford Health event. “... Like a lot of things in the pandemic, there are still a lot of unknowns. Until we know, I think it’s important that we exercise caution.”

Stanford Pediatrics Professor Grace Lee agreed, and said she’s hopeful more information is coming soon.

“Our colleagues at the CDC are working specifically on this question to be able to try and find some answers to this,” Lee said. “... But just from a clinical perspective, you would anticipate that if (the vaccine) protects us against severe disease, it probably protects us against having a high viral load, which probably reduces our transmission.

“So, we can infer that there probably is some protection, we just don’t know how much or if it’s as good as 95 percent,” she said.

COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any of the virus itself. They cannot infect anyone with COVID-19. Experts are also recommending that people get the same vaccine for both doses and follow the three- or four-week interval schedule as closely as possible. People who have recovered from COVID-19 should also get vaccinated, according to public health leaders.

For more information about the two vaccines and local guidelines, visit https://www.smcgov.org/press-release/covid-19-vaccines-frequently-asked-questions.

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