Ask an Expert: Dr. Tyson Garfield, UNT Health Science Center

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Dr. Tyson Garfield, UNTHSCUNT System HR is bringing UNT World experts directly to you with this periodic and always timely installation called "Ask An Expert." So, let's ask...

EXPERT: Dr. Tyson Garfield, Assistant Professor of Geriatric Medicine, UNTHSC
EXPERTISE: Primary care and consultant geriatrician with seven years clinical experience

Throughout this ongoing pandemic, we've seen just how advantageous it is to have a medical school as a member institution. The UNT Health Science Center has been invaluable to us as well as the community-at-large. With vaccinations now available for people 50 and older, and thousands getting vaccinated daily in North Texas, we have plenty of questions about what that means for our daily lives. Can those of us vaccinated safely go to grocery store? Or dining indoors? How about taking our unvaccinated children to the upcoming Texas Rangers home opener? Dr. Garfield has answers.

Q: Now that I’ve received the full vaccination for COVID-19, what can I do, where can I go?
Dr. Garfield: 
With the vaccines, a person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine or two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which is only one dose). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released interim guidelines on March 8 to reflect this. Fully vaccinated people can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe CV-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic  

So, in simple terms, fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors or visit with low risk people from a single household without masks or distancing. Fully vaccinated people also don’t need to have a test if they have a known exposure as long as they remain asymptomatic. If symptoms develop, that person should be tested. However, just because you are vaccinated doesn't mean it is safe to return to your pre-pandemic daily behaviors just yet. For example:

  • Is it safe to go to the grocery store?
    • It still isn’t completely safe to go to the grocery store, but as vaccination rates increase, I hope this will be safe in a few months. For now, continue to do curbside pick-up or limit in-store hours to less busy time.  
  • Is it safe to dine indoors?
    • Not yet. With the recent statewide change in regulation regarding mask wearing and capacity, I would recommend continuing to support local restaurants through take-out or drive-through. The number of fully vaccinated persons increase daily and as this increases, the risk of dining indoors will decrease.
  • Can I gather in a large group outdoors?
    • As long as everyone is fully vaccinated and this is a private gathering (i.e. not an outdoor concert or bar), this would be the safest way to gather. Large gatherings are still not recommended at this time.
  • Last week, the Texas Rangers announced that they will allow full capacity (40,518) for two upcoming exhibition games (March 29 and 30) and for the April 5 home opener with mask enforcement being mostly up to fans to self-police. Is it safe to take my unvaccinated children, even with the roof being open?
    • Not at this time. Vaccines are still being investigated in children, and the Pfizer vaccine has actually been authorized for children 16 and older, but due to the large crowd and close proximity, this Opening Day has the chance to be a “superspreader” event in that many unvaccinated individuals will be in contact and could take COVID-19 back to their communities and loved ones. Hopefully, people will self-police and wear their masks, and by April 5 many more people will be fully vaccinated. But, at the time of writing this I cannot recommend attending Opening Day in person.

Q: I'm fully vaccinated, but can I still contract the virus and pass it on to someone who is not vaccinated?
Dr. Garfield: 
The data is still pending on this question, and for now the answer is “Yes.” There is evolving data from Israel, which primarily used the Pfizer vaccine, that transmission may be reduced in those who are vaccinated. The vaccines are excellent at reducing infection severity and likely decrease asymptomatic infection (particularly the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), which in turn would reduce transmission.

Q: What are the risks and benefits of the vaccine?
Dr. Garfield: Overall, the risks are low, and the most common side effects of the Pfizer/Moderna vaccines are a sore arm, fatigue and a headache. These normally occur one to two days after the vaccination, are usually worse after the second injection and usually last for a day. Symptoms are easily improved with Tylenol. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has similar side effects, but is only one dose. The benefits are that two weeks following the final dose of your vaccine path, you are protected from COVID-19! The Pfizer/Moderna vaccine generally has better protection, up to 95% vs. the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which boasts a still hefty 66% protection; and ultimately the best vaccine is the one that gets into your arm the soonest! As far as providing protection from coronavirus, “natural immunity” (becoming infected) does not provide as long-lasting protection as the vaccines do; so even if you were previously infected it is still recommended to get vaccinated.

Q: With people getting vaccinated each day, is a wearing a mask still really necessary?
Dr. Garfield: Yes, right now masks are still necessary. Even if you are fully vaccinated, masks will continue to be necessary until studies confirm that the vaccines decrease asymptomatic transmission. As increasing numbers of people are vaccinated the risks of all the previously discussed activities will decrease and allow a slow return to “normal.” Thanks to vaccines, we’ll reach herd immunity and one day we’ll all get to see each other’s smiling faces again!