Only a few months ago, life after COVID felt impossible to envision. But now, with vaccinations available for ages 16+ and projected for availability in as many Americans’ arms as possible by early summer, it isn’t just a distant dream. It’s a soon-to-be reality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you haven’t been vaccinated already, here’s why you should consider it and how to prepare for resuming pre-pandemic activities once you’ve had it.

See Family and Friends 

“The vaccination can give you back some sense of normalcy,” says Dr. Victor Nwanguma, an infectious disease specialist at Summit Health.

“Based on what we know about the COVID -19 vaccine, after 2 weeks once you’ve been fully vaccinated (it typically takes two weeks after you are fully vaccinated for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19) proceed wisely and logically,” Dr. Nwanguma advises. You can spend time indoors with extended family who have also been fully vaccinated, masks off—meaning grandparents can see their grandkids around the dinner table instead of sitting six feet apart in lawn chairs in the driveway. It’s also okay to include “other trusted households that you know are vaccinated” in gatherings, Dr. Nwanguma says. The only exception to going mask-free indoors is if an adult in the group remains unvaccinated or if a relative or friend is severely immunocompromised.

Make Travel Plans  

Yes, you can—domestically without need for COVID-19 pre- or post-travel test or need to quarantine after travel and to certain international destinations without the need for pre-travel COVID-19 test and without quarantining after travel.

The CDC is currently adding international countries to the “Do Not Travel” list, largely because of variants and lack of large-scale vaccinations abroad. But within the United States and its territories, you should feel less nervous about traveling once you’re vaccinated, Dr. Nwanguma says.

Weigh the Risks 

That said, Dr. Nwanguma recommends continuing to mask up in public settings or large gatherings. “You can’t let your guard down among unknown individuals,” he says. You never know who in a crowd has refused a vaccine and might carry COVID-19 or a contagious variant. Like the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine greatly reduces your chance of contracting a severe form of the illness, but questions remain about how effective they’ll remain against variants, which he calls a “moving target.”

While reports have come out about blood clots with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine and herpes zoster from the Pfizer vaccine, both have an extremely low incidence rate. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential side effects. For more information about side effects, view CDC guidelines.

Conversely, don’t worry if you have zero reaction to the vaccines. Forming the necessary antibodies after getting your immunization is different for every person, Dr. Nwanguma says. It’s a misconception to think that it’s only working if you have a sore arm or a fever the next day.

Additionally, the CDC does not encourage testing for antibodies after immunization since a negative test does not mean the vaccine was not effective.

Continue Protocols 

If you feel symptomatic, get PCR-tested for variants, and then quarantine. For healthy individuals who have had the vaccine, Dr. Nwanguma reiterates that “simply put, you nearly eliminate your risk of getting really sick. While the vaccines are not 100% effective, they are pretty close when it comes to preventing death or severe illness from COVID-19.”

Still, he points out that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95 percent effective. Vaccination, he suggests, is the roadmap back to normal life.