Don’t be too quick to chuck those face masks just yet.
With Americans beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, many are wondering when we can throw away our face masks. Can’t we get rid of them the second we receive a vaccine?
Not yet. In fact, it could be months before it is safe to discard them.
Researchers say that’s because vaccines like those being produced by Moderna and Pfizer might still allow us to become infected with the coronavirus, albeit without illness. Studies have not yet evaluated if they prevent virus transmission. That means we could become asymptomatic carriers who could still infect the unvaccinated, who could fall seriously ill.
We know from data produced in large trials that these vaccines are incredibly effective in preventing illness — more than 90% efficacy for both vaccines. But scientists say more study is needed before we know if the vaccines reduce the rate of infection and thus our ability to pass on the virus to others.
It’s also important to note that a small number of people who get vaccinated will still get sick with COVID-19. Additionally, peak protection after vaccination can take up to two weeks after receiving the second dose required by both Pfizer and Moderna.
None of this means you should lose all hope of ever revealing your face in public again. When enough people become vaccinated against COVID-19, the pandemic eventually should taper out through herd immunity.
We don’t know exactly what proportion of the population must become immune from COVID-19 either through infection or vaccination before that herd immunity kicks in. Estimates have ranged from 60 to 85%. Only time will tell.
So, keep masking up. Someone’s life may depend on it.