Do We Still Have To Wear Face Masks After Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine?
Wearing a mask to protect yourself and others is important even after receiving a coronavirus vaccine. (Photo: Igor Alecsander via Getty Images)
Seeing people wearing masks in everyday life is the norm in much of the country today - something that was unusual in the United States until the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
Throughout 2020, we learned that wearing a mask protects you and others from the coronavirus, which underscores the importance of wearing a mask in public or nearby.
Wearing masks, hand washing, and social distancing remain keys to containing the spread of the virus, but a lot has changed in the world of COVID-19 prevention. In particular, there is now at least one approved vaccine in several countries including the US, UK and Canada. While a vaccine is a profound scientific development that offers much-needed security, it is not an instant panacea.
Realistically, immunity is not achieved immediately after vaccination and the vaccine is not available to everyone at the same time. Even after vaccinating high-risk individuals and other groups, important mitigation measures such as wearing masks continue.
"I think we should be ready to wear masks for the foreseeable future, probably for next year, certainly until the third quarter of 2021, when they expect to really vaccinate large numbers of the public," said Marybeth Sexton, Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Why? According to experts, face masks are necessary for the further introduction of the vaccine:
Although the vaccine is highly effective, it does not provide immunity for everyone
Data from the vaccine trials showed that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are very effective - most people who receive the vaccine will get protection against the coronavirus.
While the efficacy data for the Pfizer vaccine shows that it is 95% effective - higher than initially expected by most experts - it means that there is still a portion of the vaccinated population that cannot be protected, Sexton said.
"You have 5% of people and possibly more in certain groups who may not be immune despite being vaccinated," she said, adding that it is also unknown how those who are immunocompromised will respond to the vaccine and whether or not they will the case will be 95% effective in this group as well.
Wearing masks is required to protect those who do not develop protection from COVID-19 until herd immunity can be achieved. "We estimate that 60 to 70% of the population must be immune to achieve herd immunity," noted Sexton.
She added that it will take time to achieve herd immunity, especially with a new two-dose vaccine.
It is not known if a person who receives a coronavirus vaccine can still pass the infection on to those around them. (Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images)
It is not known if people who receive the vaccine can still spread the virus
You could read the first point and think: What does it matter while I am vaccinated? I cannot pass the disease on to someone who is not protected. Unfortunately, this is not yet fully known, said Michael LeVasseur, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health.
"There are still questions about whether someone who has been vaccinated can get an infection that leads to secondary infections," noted LeVasseur. In other words, people who receive the vaccine may still be able to pass the infection on to those around them.
He added that people are most contagious before they show symptoms of COVID-19. So it is not out of the realm of possibility to worry that asymptomatic spread might occur if those receiving the vaccine can still shed the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci - the nation's leading infectious disease expert - told the Today show on Friday that Moderna's vaccine may prevent anyone from spreading the infection. However, it will take more time to screen people receiving the vaccine to see if this is actually the case.
"If you protect yourself against clinical diseases, that's very good," said Fauci in an interview. "However, if you are also preventing one person from actually becoming infected, it means that you are preventing someone from passing the infection on to another person and preventing it from disrupting the chain of transmission."
Sexton added that more questions about the prevalence in vaccinated people will be answered as we learn more about the vaccines. Until then, masking is still important to ensure that those who are protected don't spread the virus to those who haven't been vaccinated.
Immunity does not appear immediately, so masks will be required when your body responds to the vaccine
The currently approved COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccine candidates will be given in two doses. You will need to take two exposures three to four weeks apart to complete your treatment. In addition, once you leave the doctor's office, immunity does not appear.
"Depending on the vaccine, you likely won't get the immunity needed to prevent infection for 28 days," LeVasseur said, adding that 28 days are approximately a week after the second vaccine dose.
Masks are needed to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19 if your body responds to the vaccine.
And while some people will get the vaccine soon, many won't be able to get the vaccine until 2021. This makes wearing masks in public and indoor spaces critical to keeping everyone healthy while they wait for their turn to be vaccinated.
Masks are needed to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19 if your body responds to the vaccine. (Photo: Halfpoint Images via Getty Images)
How long we have to wear masks depends on how much of the population is vaccinated
There is still public hesitation about the coronavirus vaccine. According to a Gallup poll in December, an estimated 63% of Americans say they are receiving the vaccine, LeVasseur said.
Sexton stressed that it is critical that people pay attention to the science that emerges from the studies. This shows that the vaccine is working well and has good safety data.
People's willingness or unwillingness to receive the vaccine directly affects how long we wear masks and wait for the return to "normal," Sexton said. It is impossible to have any public immunity unless people are ready to receive the vaccine.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is known or available at the time of publication. However, guidelines may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.
What are the side effects of the coronavirus vaccine?
How long does it take for the coronavirus vaccine to work?
Do you need the coronavirus vaccine if you have already had COVID-19?
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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