When are you fully vaccinated?


Unsure about the benefits and limitations of COVID-19 vaccination or when full immunity kicks in depending on which vaccine you take? These are six key questions to ask if you want to benefit fully from vaccination. Learn the answers here!

If you want to benefit fully from vaccination, there are six key questions to answer about how these vaccines work. We answer them here:

1. What does "fully vaccinated" mean?

You are fully vaccinated when:

  • You have completed a course of vaccination, and
  • You have waited for the period after your last dose which applies to the vaccine you received.

2. Does full vaccination differ with different vaccines?

Yes. Each vaccine works differently:

  • The Pfizer BioNtech vaccine is a two-dose vaccine authorised in South Africa for use in people 12 years and older. There is a 42-day waiting period between the first and second doses. You are fully vaccinated 14 days after the second dose.
  • The J&J vaccine is a one-dose vaccine authorised for use in people who are 18 years and older. You are fully vaccinated 28 days after receiving the vaccine.

Remember, vaccines train your immune system to fight the disease. That training takes time. Until you are fully vaccinated, you are still at risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. So be sure to follow all preventive measures strictly while you wait to be fully vaccinated. Read more here about why it's still important to maintain the measures that have kept you safe from exposure to COVID-19, regardless of your vaccination status./p>

3. What are the benefits of full vaccination?

Once you are fully vaccinated:

  • If you do get infected, your sickness is likely going to be mild and not require hospitalisation, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
  • You will be effectively protected against severe disease and death from all current COVID-19 variants.
  • You can safely resume some of your pre-pandemic activities, depending on what is allowed by Disaster Management Regulations.

4. Should I check my antibody status once I am fully vaccinated?

No, it won't be helpful to. The currently available antibody tests do not measure antibodies produced by the vaccine, including other immune responses associated with the vaccine, and will therefore give you a negative result. This does not mean, however, that you have not developed protection from the vaccine.

5. What are the limitations of full vaccination?

  • Even though the vaccine protects you against severe illness, it does not completely prevent you from getting the disease, or from passing it on to others.
  • Initial studies showed that the vaccines caused a reduction in transmission (passing on the virus) with the early variants (the Alpha and Beta variants). But the with the highly transmissible Delta variant - which is currently the dominant variant globally - there is a risk of transmission from fully vaccinated infected individuals.
  • Even though you may be fully vaccinated, you may not be fully protected if your immune system is weakened from a medical condition, or because of medicine you are taking.
  • This is why you should continue to use non-medical methods of protection after vaccination, such as wearing a mask; physical distancing and washing or sanitising your hands regularly.
  • If you are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you will still need to quarantine for 19 days. If you become symptomatic and later test positive, you will have to isolate at home. You must isolate yourself if your test is positive.

6. Are you protected forever?

  • Research is still taking place to try to determine how long protection from the COVID-19 vaccines will last.
  • It is likely that the protection from the vaccine will weaken over time, but there is no firm data on this yet. Learn more about the likelihood of needing booster shots here.

You can learn more about COVID-19 and vaccines here, and join the millions of South Africans who can proudly say, #IGotMyVaccine.

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for education and information objectives only. Discovery publishes content to help to promote a better understand of COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations. The content covered is an overview of key concepts and is not exhaustive in nature. We encourage further reading from other credible sources where necessary.

South African organisations:

  • National Department of Health's dedicated COVID-19 portal: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
  • National Institute for Communicable Diseases' (part of the National Health Laboratory Service) dedicated COVID-19 hub
  • South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPRHA - part of the National Department of Health).
  • South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
  • South African Medical Journal (SAMJ)

International Organisations:

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