Should You Bother to Wear a Mask If You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine? What 5 Experts Say

Lisa Goetz

People across the United States and worldwide should continue following public health advice because it will take time to achieve herd immunity.

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There is light at the end of the tunnel. One of the COVID-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, rolled out across the United States to cheers on Monday, December 14, 2020. In the United Kingdom, nursing home residents and healthcare workers began receiving the vaccine one week prior.

Throughout the pandemic, one of the consistent challenges for many people worldwide has been compliance with public health recommendations to keep safe, specifically wearing a face mask in public.

Videos showing adults of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds getting into fights and being thrown out of business establishments for not wearing a mask have gone viral. These frequent altercations about mask-wearing illustrate how difficult and contentious the recommendation — and requirement in some places — has been.

Not wanting to wear a mask is understandable. Some people have a hard time breathing while wearing them. Or, the textile out of which the mask is made feels uncomfortable on the skin.

With the exception of healthcare professionals, wearing a face mask is a foreign concept to most people. Healthcare professionals may take their time getting used to breathing, talking, and going about their daily affairs while wearing a mask, but for most people in 2020, it was trial by fire.

Some people rejected, and continue to reject, wearing masks to the point where they’ve become infected with the virus; some may have even died as a result. So naturally, many people are excited and hopeful that the vaccine will help life get back to normal, which includes saying goodbye to face masks.

But before you pack up your mask stash to throw in the garbage, remember that a lot is still unknown about how well the various vaccines will work over the long term.

Experts similarly appear excited about the coronavirus vaccines but offer reality checks, based on science, about the probability that mask-wearing, and other public health requirements such as frequent handwashing and social distancing, will go away any time soon.

Here’s what five medical experts have to say about why you need to keep wearing a face mask for now.

Uncertainty about how much protection the vaccine provides

“There is not enough information currently available to say if or when CDC will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others to help prevent the spread of […] COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection […] vaccines provide before making that decision. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Effectiveness among individuals

“[…] even though for the general population, it [the vaccine] might be 90[%] to 95% effective, you don’t necessarily know, for you, how effective it is.” — Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Even with the vaccine, you might still be contagious

“A lot of people are thinking that once they get vaccinated, they’re not going to have to wear masks anymore […] It’s really going to be critical for them to know if they have to keep wearing masks because they could still be contagious.” — Michal Tal, Immunologist, Stanford University

Others around you may not have received the vaccine

“[…] many of the people around us will not be able to get the vaccine. We don’t yet have data on pregnant women, on nursing women, we don’t yet know much about kids under the age of 12, and we also know people with severe allergies can’t get the vaccine. In order to protect those individuals, everybody else should really try to get the vaccine to slow the spread of the virus […] So, there are so many good reasons for us to continue to wear masks, even after we get the vaccine.” — Dr. Payal Kohli, 9News Health Expert, Colorado

It will take time for most Americans to get the vaccine

“[…] 230 million Americans must receive the vaccine. It will take time to produce this many vaccines — and remember the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are two-dose vaccines, so you need double the number of doses as people […] If all goes well, the best estimates are that it will be late spring or early summer for most Americans to receive the vaccine. At that point, we could probably see one another without masks — but not before.” — Dr. Leana Wen, George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health

In a recent interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci emphasized that the pandemic is not a switch. Until more is known, wearing a mask, staying at home, and washing or sanitizing hands regularly remain the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the ubiquitous invisible enemy.

Originally published on Medium.

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Lisa Goetz writes cryptocurrency news, analysis and opinion. A freelance journalist with 11 years of experience, Goetz's articles have been featured in USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the Houston Chronicle.

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