People should continue to adhere to public health guidance even after they receive two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, health officials have warned.
And in a blow to the 90,000 people who received shielding letters last June, many of whom have barely left their homes ever since, the advice is that they should continue to follow enhanced restrictions even after they are fully inoculated.
Health officials have said that people deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) should avoid going to retail settings or meeting people outside of their household as much as possible.
It comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US public health body, relaxed the rules for people who have been fully vaccinated.
The updated guidance means that people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without having to wear a face covering.
They can also meet inside with people who have not had a vaccine, except for those who are extremely vulnerable to the virus.
In a particularly significant development, the new advice has removed the need for those who are fully vaccinated to isolate if they come into contact with someone who has Covid-19.
The new guidance applies two weeks after a person receives their second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and two weeks after a person receives a dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is a single dose jab.
The Department of Health was asked for clarification on the current position here.
It said: "Even if you have received a vaccination, you must continue to observe social distancing guidelines and self-isolate if you come in contact with Covid-19.
"The vaccine is effective in fighting the virus but does not fully eliminate your risk of infection or potential transmission.
"CEV people remain extremely vulnerable to the virus, and at this point the advice remains to avoid attending shops, pharmacies, and social interactions unless absolutely necessary."
Public health expert Professor Gabriel Scally, who is a member of the independent Sage organisation, described the updated guidance as "significant".
"The CDC is the US national public health agency, so when they say that fully vaccinated people can meet together indoors in private settings, that's big news," he said.
Prof Scally said the hope was that we will reach a similar position, but he said this had been delayed by the decision to administer one dose of the vaccine to as many people as possible while also delaying the rollout of the second dose to most people.
"I do think the Department of Health is taking a cautious approach and they want to keep restrictions as tight as possible for as long as possible," he said.
"I do agree with the vaccination policy that is in place in Northern Ireland, but it does mean that it will be some time before significant numbers of people have had two doses of the vaccine. Only a very small proportion of the population has had two doses so far.
"However, we are seeing more and more evidence that the vaccines are effective, the figures are showing a fall in the number of over-80s who are being hospitalised.
"But there hasn't been a marked decrease in other age groups, and I think that shows how long it takes for the vaccine to feed through into cases. Although as someone who has had their first dose, I am delighted by the evidence to date." According to latest figures, 641,121 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered locally. Of these, 596,527 were first doses and 44,594 second doses.
It is now at the stage where an increasing number of people will require their second dose of the vaccine but it is likely to be a number of months before the most vulnerable in society are fully vaccinated.
Despite this, First Minister Arlene Foster has said that the continued success of the vaccination programme will lead to brighter days.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre, Mrs Foster said: "I am delighted to see at first-hand the truly lifesaving work of our vaccines programme, which is currently running every day of the week, right across Northern Ireland.
"Later this month we will see the opening of the mass testing facilities at the SSE Arena, along with the inclusion of over 350 local pharmacies as part of a planned expansion.
"This gives us all the much-needed confidence that brighter days are close at hand.
"It is an opportune time to say a heartfelt thank-you to all of those involved in the programme, the organisers, vaccinators and volunteers for their dedicated service.
"It is down to their hard work and expertise that this programme has significantly surpassed targets to protect our citizens."