By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — About 80,000 Minnesota seniors have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Thousands more likely registered Tuesday morning when a statewide lottery system opened for vaccinations.

As that number climbs, it had us wondering: What are you safe to do after getting vaccinated?

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After months of connecting digitally, or with a window in the middle, a true meeting with loved ones in person is what our most vulnerable population often mentions first about their plans after getting vaccinated.

With more doses now available to seniors, that goal appears possible, but also not so simple.

What’s safe to do after you’ve been vaccinated?

“It’s not going to be an immediate thing,” said Dr. David Hilden, internal medicine physician at Hennepin Healthcare.

“People ask when can you hug your parents again,” said Dr. Abe Jacob, chief quality officer at M Health Fairview.

The consensus from both doctors is that those who are vaccinated must take things slow.

If an elderly person gets vaccinated, how soon can they visit loved ones?

“Your immunity is probably reaching its peak a couple of weeks after your second dose,” Hilden said.

For example, let’s say you’re scheduled to get your second dose of the vaccine on Feb. 1. Your peak immunity won’t kick in immediately.

It needs 10 to 14 days to grow before it reaches 95% effectiveness, making that meeting with a loved one safer, at least for the person vaccinated, after Feb. 14.

“I was very excited to receive the vaccine,” said Theresa Klein, an occupational therapist who specializes in dementia care.

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She received her first dose last week and described it as an emotional experience.

“I was actually very teary eyed,” she said. “It was really done in honor of my dad.”

Klein’s father, Don Jerome, died from COVID-19 in October. Her mother Loretta also caught the virus but survived. They had to grieve Don’s loss with a window in between them. Loretta is scheduled to get vaccinated soon, which will give them that long-awaited opportunity to properly grieve side by side.

“We weren’t able to have a funeral yet. We’re postponing until the spring or summer, until it’s safe to do that. So being able to come together as a family is very important,” she said.

When asked if she might behave differently after her second dose, Klein responded, “I do anticipate still following the CDC guidelines and the Minnesota guidelines because not everyone’s gonna have the vaccine right away.”

That’s what doctors are recommending. They want people to continue wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands. It’s because there are many unknowns about the vaccine, like if we can still infect others.

“If I’m vaccinated, but if I get COVID I don’t know if I would be infectious for my loved ones or my colleagues,” Jacob said.

How the vaccine reacts to the new variants of the virus remains to be seen, as well as how long the immunity from the shots will last.

“Will it be for a lifetime, or for five years, or will we be getting a vaccine every year? That we don’t know yet,” Hilden said.

Both doctors are filled with optimism about the future, and feel we’ve turned a corner in the pandemic, however there are still many months to go.

How many must be vaccinated before we can start to change our behavior?

Both doctors said that will happen when the vaccination rate hits 70%-80%.

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Jeff Wagner