As vaccines are rolling out in almost all of the countries worldwide, a new question is coming up with people looking for answers: should you still wear the face mask even after getting the vaccine against the coronavirus?
Short answer is YES! Here are 13 reasons to keep wearing the mask, found out why!
1. The vaccine may not give you protection right away
Many of the currently available vaccines come in two shots, 3-4 weeks apart. While the first shot already starts to build protection, the second one boosts it further and likely extends it for a longer period of time, but the immune system still needs time to build such protection. It takes about 2 weeks after the second shot to be protected against COVID-19 according to the currently published studies.
2. Face masks protect those around you who are not yet immunized
We are just at the beginning of this massive vaccination campaign: only few people are vaccinated as of today, we are far from reaching herd immunity and we don’t know yet whether vaccinated people are able to spread the disease or not. The large majority is not immunized yet, hence it is better to keep wearing the face mask.
3. You may still be able to spread the disease
Although you may be immune to the disease after getting the two doses of the vaccine, you may still be able to spread the virus to others who are not immune yet. Experts need time and a lot more data in real-life conditions before we are able to say whether you are able to spread the virus after the vaccine or not. One possibility under scrutiny is that you may be protected against developing symptoms and against the disease, but the immune system may still not be able to fight off the virus completely, allowing few viral particles to survive, reproduce and be spread in the environment.
4. You can still be reinfected
Still too little is known about the possibility of reinfection. So far only a few cases of reinfection have been reported and the possibility of it happening remains very rare, but until we know more it is better to keep wearing face masks to minimize this risk.
5. You may still get infected by a new strain of the virus
Viruses mutate quickly and sometimes these new variants persist and spread, while other times they disappear. At this moment, 3 new variants are circulating around the globe and are being monitored:
- UK COVID-19 Variant (B.1.1.7).
- South Africa COVID Variant (1.351)
- Brazil COVID Variant (P.1)
Being new variants, there is very little data about them, and we still don’t know much. They seem to be able to spread more easily and more quickly than the original SARS-CoV-2, but there is no evidence that they may cause a more severe form of the disease or that there’s an increased risk of death. Nevertheless, more people infected means more stress on the healthcare systems and potentially more deaths. One crucial thing we don’t know about these variants is whether the currently developed vaccines are effective against them or not.
6. Vaccines are not 100% effective
Even though the Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are about 90% effective, this still means that 1 in 20 people who gets the vaccine could get infected by COVID-19.
7. We still don’t know how long you are protected
We have encouraging data on how long immunity lasts from both people who caught the COVID infection and those who are vaccinated: a recent study on healthcare workers found that recovering from the infection may substantially reduce the risk of reinfection for at least 6 months; we still don’t know exactly how long the immunity from the vaccine will last and it’s likely not going to be a lifelong immunity, but expert are confident it should provide at least 6 months up to 1 year protection, after which another booster shot may lengthen the immunity period even further, but it is too early to say.
8. Face masks protect those who can’t be vaccinated
Some people can’t get the vaccine, such as those who already experienced severe allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients. By wearing a face mask, you will protect them.
9. Face masks protect those with a compromised immune system
We still don’t know how well the vaccines work in people with a compromised immune system, such as cancer patients or other categories of patients with weakened immune systems. In these patients, the efficacy of the vaccination may be well below the 90-95% efficacy in the healthy population. By wearing a face mask, you will protect them.
10. Face masks protect against all airborne diseases
Face masks are an effective tool not just against COVID, but against any and all of the airborne diseases. From the common cold and the seasonal flu, to more deadly diseases (as well as the ones that, like COVID, experts warn us may come in the future!).
Even the most common and less scary diseases like the cold or the seasonal flu, can still cause the hospitalization and be deadly for certain categories such as the elderly, those with other pre-existing conditions, cancer patients and those with a weakened immune system. We could save many more lives and live healthier by using the face mask regardless of COVID-19.
11. People who are not vaccinated yet may stop wearing mask as well
If all vaccinated people stop wearing masks, those still waiting for their shots may think it’s ok to stop wearing a mask or may unconsciously feel pressured to not wear one to conform to others. Social human behavior is a complex subject and peer-pressure applies to wearing masks as well.
12. Some people refuse the vaccine
Due to ignorance, misinformation and fake news some people are concerned about the vaccine being developed too quickly or simply refuse all kinds of vaccinations due to myths and believes.
By wearing a face mask, you will minimize the risk of reinfection and of catching a mutated variant of the coronavirus from these individuals. Moreover, you will also protect them against the virus which although for some seems not to be important, it’s still the ethical thing to do, as well as it saves resources.
13. Face masks reduce the amount of pollution you breath
One more benefit of face masks is that they reduce the amount of pollution you breath in. Masks specifically designed to filter particulate matter are classified as N95-N99 masks in the USA or FFP1-FFP2-FFP3 in Europe, but a 2016 study found that also cloth masks and surgical masks are able to decrease the amount of pollution you breath in by 15-80% assuming you are wearing it properly and depending on the specific type of mask you are wearing and on breathing flow rate. Surgical and cloth masks are less effective for very small particles (<PM 2.5) and become increasingly effective with larger sized particles.
While if you are living in a relatively unpolluted countryside area this may not be interesting to you, for the hundreds of millions living in highly polluted and highly populated urban areas this constitutes a great added benefit from wearing a face mask.
So how long till we can stop wear a mask?
As already said, we don’t know yet and need more data. It could be by the end of 2020 or well into 2021 at worst. Because of the many benefits that masks provide, maybe it’s time to think of this less as a medical device or personal protective equipment (PPE) and more as a new piece of clothing and start embracing it.
Some final advice
With cases and deaths still rising around the world and with lack of data on reinfections, COVID variants, and immunity, be responsible and keep protecting yourself and others and follow these recommendations:
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth
- Wash your hands often
- Stay at least 6 feet (1.5-2 meters) away from others
- Avoid crowds
- Avoid poorly ventilated spaces
Some studies also suggest that the immunity triggered by the vaccine is both stronger and longer lasting than the immunity acquired through developing the infection, so once possible book your appointment to get vaccinated even if you already had COVID in the past months.
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KM Shakya – Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, Aug 2016
- Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine.
FP Polack et al. – The New England Journal of Medicine, Dec 2020
- Safety and efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (AZD1222) against SARS-CoV-2: an interim analysis of four randomised controlled trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK.
M Voysey et al – The Lancet, Dec 2020
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RL Tillett et al – The Lancet, Oct 2020
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SF Lumley – The New England Journal of Medicine, Dec 2020
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AT Widge et al – The New England Journal of Medicine, Jan 2021
- Rapid generation of durable B cell memory to SARS-CoV-2 spike and nucleocapsid proteins in COVID-19 and convalescence.
GE Hartley et al – Science Immunology, Dec 2020
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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Former paramedic, instructor and medical school student.
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