Back in September, Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended that couples consider pushing back their…
We talk to health officials and wedding industry experts to find out.
by Mary Kate Miller
...pushing back their weddings to 2022 due to the pandemic. As head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he’s not just a trusted source, he’s the trusted source on all COVID-19 inquiries.
But, with the latest vaccine news—including FDA approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; Biden's announcement that all adult Americans will be vaccinated by May 2021; and new guidance that fully vaccinated people will be able to gather indoors—couples are now wondering: Will a "normal" wedding be possible in 2021?
Below, we break down the latest vaccine news, discuss how it relates to weddings, and speak with health officials and industry experts about the vaccine's impact on weddings in 2021.
A Timeline of the Latest Vaccine News and Recommended Guidance
Right now, news of vaccine distribution feels like the "light at the end of the tunnel" for many. Here, a look at where we stand.
March 8, 2021: CDC Announces That "Fully Vaccinated" People Will Be Allowed to Gather Indoors
On March 8, 2021, the CDC issued new guidance for vaccinated people. The highly anticipated news outlines behavior for fully vaccinated individuals, but it also gives some clarity about the future—specifically, spring and summer 2021 weddings, according to many in the wedding industry. The CDC even said this new guidance is a "first step" to returning to everyday activities.
The announcement: "Fully vaccinated people will be allowed to gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing," according to the CDC. This means that wedding guests, if vaccinated, will be able to gather, unmasked, with others who are vaccinated. They will also be allowed to gather in "small groups" with those who are not yet vaccinated if they are at a "low risk" of serious illness for the virus.
For reference, what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is dependent on when an individual received the vaccine and also what vaccine they were given. For example, individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two weeks after receiving the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
March 2, 2021: "Every Adult in America Will Be Vaccinated by the End of May," Biden Announces
With the approval of a third vaccine and a stepped-up process of production, Biden announced that the vaccine timeline has been pushed up from the original estimated date of July until May. "We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May," he said.
February 27, 2021: The FDA Authorizes the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine
On February 21, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine—the first single-dose vaccine and third FDA-authorized vaccine on the market. In a press release, Johnson & Johnson announced that it had begun shipping the vaccine and shared an estimate of distribution over the next few months. "The Company expects to deliver enough single-shot vaccines by the end of March to enable the full vaccination of more than 20 million people in the U.S.," the release said. "The Company plans to deliver 100 million single-shot vaccines to the U.S. during the first half of 2021."
President Biden made a statement on the vaccine news in a press conference a few days later. "As you know, a few days ago, after a rigorous opening—open and objective scientific review process, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine," Biden said in a statement a few days later. "We should all be encouraged by this news of a third safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine. The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we’re going to overcome this virus and get back to our loved ones, get our economy back on track, and start to move back to normal."
December 18, 2020: A Second Vaccine, by Moderna, Is Authorized by the FDA
On December 18, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the second vaccine from Moderna. Like Pfizer, this is a double-dose vaccine.
December 11, 2020: Pfizer Vaccine Approved for Use in the United States by the FDA
On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19. This allowed for the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine in the U.S.
What New Vaccine Guidance Means For Weddings
As mentioned, the announcement on March 8, 2021, is a step in returning to normal activities. But what exactly does this mean for weddings? When breaking down the statement, it's important to remember what is specifically outlined and what is to-be-determined.
What We Know
At this time, based on the CDC guidance outlined, the following will be allowed.
- Wedding guests, if vaccinated, can visit, unmasked and without social distancing, with other guests who are vaccinated.
- Vaccinated guests can gather in "small groups, " or with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
- Vaccinated guests can refrain from quarantine and testing following known exposure to COVID-19 if asymptomatic.
- Vaccinated guests should wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
What We Don't Know
In the statement, the CDC encourages vaccinated individuals to "avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings." While we can assume that weddings fall into this category, the agency did not specify the gathering size with numbers.
How Vaccine Distribution Will Affect 2021 Weddings
Hope may be in sight, but for couples planning on a 2021 wedding, the question is will it come soon enough? That depends on when in 2021 you’re trying to get married and what your expectations are, according to health officials and wedding industry experts.
March, April, and May Wedding Dates
“I would advise pushing back anything before April. I just think it's too close to call,” Alison Laesser-Keck of Alison Bryan Destinations tells Brides. Vaccines will likely be available for healthcare workers by the end of 2020, but the rollout to low-risk populations will likely take us well into 2021.
Susan Norcross of The Styled Bride has taken a similar approach with couples whose weddings are scheduled for early 2021. “For those that are having spring events, we're sort of, unfortunately, holding tight," she says. Of course, there are couples who pushed their weddings back when the pandemic hit who may be reticent to reschedule for a second time. We’ve seen that a pandemic-wedding is doable over the last year, but a spring 2021 wedding will likely look more like a pandemic wedding than a pre-COVID wedding.
“It's going to be late spring into summer before we're hitting the general population beyond the priority groups. So it just takes time to get through those first groups,” explains Professor Brian Labus, an expert in outbreak investigation and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Dr. Ramon Tallaj, a member of the New York State Vaccination Distribution and Implementation Task Force, agrees with a caveat: We can reach that timeline “if the vaccine is available and we have hundreds of millions of vaccines to distribute.” If vaccine production and distribution can scale the way we need it to, he says that by the middle of the year, we’ll have turned a corner. “The virus will be behind [us]. People can start living their lives in a different direction. Enjoying life, seeing their grandkids, visiting friends, but right now we are not in that position.”
June Weddings—and Beyond
What does that mean for couples scheduled for late May or June dates? That depends. Laesser-Keck explains that couples will need to weigh “where [the wedding is], how many guests there are, and what the weather situation is like.” She adds that if you shouldn’t fret too much about postponing if that’s what you choose to do. “I think back when this first started, people feared ‘postponement fatigue,’ but now it’s just sort of par for the course, and I wouldn’t hesitate to move [your wedding] to Fall 2021 to protect your event.”
While the fall season may not be in line with Dr. Fauci’s pre-vaccine estimates, the experts we spoke to felt good about the odds for a fall 2021 wedding. Professor Labus says, “If we're looking toward next fall for weddings I would say we're going to be probably past most of the outbreak at that point and have a lot of people vaccinated.”
What to Expect If Your Wedding Date Arrives Before the Vaccine
Until we have widespread vaccination, couples should plan to implement the safety measures the same way they have throughout the pandemic. Dr. Tallaj says, “What has changed since the beginning of this pandemic? Do we have a treatment? No. Do we have a vaccine? Almost there. Therefore, they should behave the same way that they’ve behaved for the last seven-to-eight months.”
Professor Labus echoed these sentiments for pre-vaccine fetes. “We want people to have smaller [weddings], fewer attendees, and, unfortunately, have them outside when possible and try to limit the duration of them as well so people aren't in close contact for as long. Dr. David Edwards, an aerosol transmission expert urges mask-wearing for all guests with this additional advice. “COVID testing and temperature checks for everyone involved in the wedding, including planners, guests, and vendors.”
Norcross has seen some couples embrace the safety requirements in really creative ways. “A lot of our couples are doing the Zoom ceremonies and live feeds,” she explains to us. Some have gone so far as to include a greeting to the guests on the feed at the end of the ceremony. In one indoor ceremony this year, the couple set up furniture vignettes. “Everyone, including the couple, sat at their own furniture grouping for the ceremony and cocktails.”
What to Know About Getting Vaccinated Before Your Wedding
Because the vaccine is so new, there are some who have reacted to its arrival with speculation. If you have concerns over the novel vaccine’s safety, Professor Labus offers this advice: “The vaccines are not going to be approved if they're not safe. That's the role of the FDA. They look at all of that data and make sure we have confidence in the safety of those vaccines. And then as soon as those vaccines are released, we continue to evaluate the safety of them. So if there's a very rare side effect, we can identify it. So I would say if these vaccines are approved for use it's because they are safe and it's because they are effective. So I would recommend that everyone gets acclimated with a safe and effective vaccine.”