COVID-19 Vaccinations When You’ve Had the Virus: What You Need to Know

By Amichai Perlman, PhD, PharmD
Medically reviewed
May 24, 2021

If you’ve had coronavirus, you’re probably wondering whether you actually need the vaccine. After all, if you’ve already gotten the virus, you have the antibodies – do you really need protection against it, too?

We’ve received tons of questions from patients like you, which is why we asked Dr. Amichai Perlman to dig into this topic and give us all some answers. Let’s take a closer look at how you should approach getting vaccinated if you’ve already had the virus.

Do I need to get vaccinated if I have had COVID-19?

Most people who have had COVID-19 develop natural immunity to the virus, which greatly reduces the risk of reinfection. However, this protection is not fool-proof, and cases of reinfection have been documented. 

Current approved vaccines appear to induce higher levels of antibodies than you get from having had the virus. In addition, the scientific community does not fully understand how long immunity lasts after a coronavirus infection. It is thought that the immunity lasts at least three months. 

Ultimately, this means that the vaccine may protect the body more than a previous infection could.

Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, the CDC currently recommends getting vaccinated regardless of previous infection to ensure you are protected in the future.

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Can you still get the virus after getting vaccinated?

Infection following the vaccine was also observed in the clinical trials, which is to say, yes, you can still get coronavirus if you’ve been vaccinated.

Almost none of these infections were severe, which is why all persons eligible are encouraged to get the vaccine. Even if you do get the coronavirus after vaccination, the vaccine may protect against the dangers of severe infection. 

How long should I wait to get vaccinated after having coronavirus?

The CDC recommends that people with current coronavirus infection should delay vaccination until recovering from the acute illness.

People who were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma are recommended to wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine, to avoid potential interference of these antibody therapies with the vaccine.

In people who did not receive these treatments, there is no recommended minimum interval between previous infection and vaccination. Current evidence suggests that reinfection is uncommon in the months after initial infection but may increase with time due to waning immunity.

Do I still need to wear a mask & social distance after getting vaccinated?

Several studies conducted since vaccine rollout have established that the vaccines do reduce the spread of coronavirus, and demonstrated that fully vaccinated people are much less likely to be infected or to transmit the virus.

Based on this assessment, and the lower risk of severe disease among vaccinated individuals, the CDC has issued guidance relaxing most of the COVID-19 precautions for fully vaccinated people.

People are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. If you don’t meet these requirements, regardless of your age, you are not fully vaccinated. Keep taking all precautions until you are fully vaccinated.

According to this guidance, if you are a fully vaccinated person you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, unless required to by local guidance.

In addition, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested, after being around someone who has COVID-19, unless you have symptoms or work in a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter. Likewise, if you travel inside the United States, you do not need to get tested before or after travel, or self-quarantine after travel.

However, the vaccines are not going to eliminate infections entirely, and will not reduce transmission entirely. You should still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home and away from others. You will also still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation.

Some workplaces and businesses may likewise continue to require precautionary measures. Lastly, people who have a weakened immune system, should talk to their healthcare provider to discuss their activities and the need for additional precautions.

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Amichai Perlman, PhD, PharmD

Dr. Perlman is a clinical pharmacist and pharmacoepidemiologist, with over 10 years of experience advising patients and clinicians on medication use, personalization, and safety. He has extensively published peer-reviewed research addressing medication safety.