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If public places could have a universal dress code, a mask would now top the list. While people thought of mask-wearing as a ‘temporary precaution’ against COVID-19, it turns out that masks have become an unavoidable measure in the new normal.
However, with global vaccination campaigns rolling out gradually in as many as 42 countries worldwide, people are sneakily popping out of their masks now and then. The meteoric success registered by the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford has made people prone to throwing caution to the winds.
So, have we finally contained the spread of coronavirus with vaccines promising up to 95% efficacy? Do we no longer need to step out with masks on our faces?
The straightforward answer to all our masked fears is that mitigating COVID-19 transmission is more about following precautions than about getting vaccinated. Clearly, getting vaccinated does not alone guarantee effective control of the virus spread. So far, all we know is that a vaccine can only protect people from contracting a grave illness and landing in hospitals again.
What we do not know yet is whether COVID-19 vaccines can prevent infection spread by vaccinated individuals.
Worse still, a vaccinated person can still get “reinfected by COVID-19 with mild or no symptoms at all”, thus “silently spreading” the virus. Without wearing masks, these asymptomatic people are the most-feared virus spreaders who can put unvaccinated people at high risk.
Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University, dismisses the idea of vaccinated people roaming around without masks by stating, “Many people think that once they are vaccinated, they will no longer have to wear masks. It will be critical for them to know if they have to continue using a mask because they could continue to be contagious”.
That being said, wearing a mask is no longer a choice but an essential shield to protect yourself and others around you from infection.
Three reasons to continue wearing masks even after vaccination
For the unconvinced lot, here are some more statistically-backed reasons as to why mask-wearing continues to be significant beyond vaccination.
- Mask-wearing reduces the risk of a compromised immunity
All of us have a unique immunity system that is defending us all the time. People might or might not develop a strong response to COVID-19, no matter if they are vaccinated or not. Some people may experience extreme symptoms, while the asymptomatic ones may still carry loads of viruses inside them.
Dr S.N. Aravinda of Aster RV Hospital asserts, “If you have compromised immunity, the only things that will keep you safe are social distancing, mask-wearing and good hygiene, even after you have recovered from the infection. Precautions will keep you safer for longer, while vaccination will get us closer to achieving herd immunity.”
2. Immunity from vaccination will not happen immediately
Let us face it – people aged between 18 and 50 years are nowhere close to receiving the vaccine shots anytime soon. It largely depends on the population, vaccination strategy and effectiveness results of a nation, among other factors
Even if you get lucky, the complete treatment includes two doses of vaccine given three to four weeks apart. Once vaccinated, a person is still “roughly 28 days far from achieving the levels of immunity required to prevent infection – depending on the vaccine”, suggests Michael LeVasseur, assistant professor in epidemiology and biostatistics, Drexel University, Philadelphia.
Therefore, if not boosting immunity, wearing masks can at least bring down virus circulation within a community after vaccination drives hit the floor.
3. We are not sure about how effective the vaccine is
So, you have received the vaccine shots, but still showing mild symptoms or side effects? You may not be alone. Although the four approved COVID-19 vaccines are promising 90 to 95% efficacy, researchers need to complete their homework.
Studies confirm that in high-risk scenarios, such as in diabetic or obese candidates, the response of both vaccines and immunity still needs to be carefully monitored. Also, we are yet to discover how well the vaccines protect us from the severe COVID-19 disease.
To conclude, it is better to quote Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in Seattle
It is a race: It depends on whether the virus can replicate faster or the immune system can control it faster.“