As cities and countries around the world expedite vaccination programs to the population, many are becoming fully vaccinated. These initiatives are certainly a step towards reclaiming our lives pre-pandemic. However, before you celebrate and throw away your face masks, researchers and experts warn that we still have to continue wearing them for a little longer, especially when you are in public settings.
So, before explaining why one still needs to wear a mask after 2 vaccine shots, it is vital to understand what it means to be “fully vaccinated.” According to the Centers of Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), in general, you are considered fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines; or
- 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
Regardless of your age, if you do meet these requirements, you are considered NOT fully vaccinated. Hence, it is still important to keep performing all precautions until you are fully vaccinated.
Many scientists and experts agree that face masks and physical distancing will need to continue into the foreseen future because, sad to say, getting vaccinated does not instantly mean we can go back to how life was before. A herd immunity must be reached first before we go back to pre-pandemic settings. Herd immunity means about 50% to 80% of the population are vaccinated. Since it will take some time to increase production and distribution of the vaccines, it is important that we continue to manage our expectations about a quick return to normal. So until we have reached some level of herd immunity, the vaccine at present is just an additional form of protection against COVID-19
However, there is some advantage for those who are already fully vaccinated, but there are conditions. The CDC reminds the following if fully vaccinated:
- You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.
- You must wear a mask indoors in public, especially if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission. This is to reduce the risk of being infected with the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others.
- You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.
- If you have had close contact with someone who is positive with COVID-19, you must get tested 3 to 5 days after your exposure, even if you do not present with any symptoms. In addition to that, you should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until your test result is negative. If your test result is positive, you should isolate yourself for 10 days.
With that, vaccines are surely a step in the right direction. However, we are still not out of this pandemic yet. Hence, it is still important for those who have already been vaccinated to continue wearing a mask. Here are some of the reasons why:
- For vaccines to fully kick in, it takes about two weeks.
Until after two weeks of your second-dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you will not reach almost the 95% effectiveness rate. After the first dose, a partial immunity is only provided by the vaccine. This is definitely good news, however it does not mean you are immediately protected the minute you are jabbed with the vaccine. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your single dose. It really takes some time before vaccines work. Hence, wearing masks is still very important.
- Vaccines only offer 95% protection.
Vaccines are incredibly effective. However, they only offer approximately 95% protection against COVID-19 infection. In addition to that, there is no possible way to indicate who among the population would probably belong to 5%, in which they do not respond as much to the vaccine and thus would be at greater risk for COVID-19. However, these numbers should not discourage anyone from taking the vaccine. In fact, the measles vaccine is just 97% effective after two doses. However, the disease was still considered controlled and eliminated. With these data available, one should still get vaccinated and practice precautions as much as possible which include wearing face masks.
- Vaccinated people might be carriers of COVID-19.
Current data proves that the vaccines can prevent developing severe illness, however more study is still required in order to know if the vaccines also prevent transmission. Many experts are raising concerns that vaccinated people might be carriers or asymptomatic individuals who can still spread COVID-19 to others who have not been vaccinated yet. With that, if vaccinated people do not continue to wear a face mask until more people are considered fully vaccinated, they could super spread the virus to more people, which increases the risk of more people getting sick. It is vital that we protect others through wearing face masks while we wait for others to receive their vaccine.
- Wearing face masks means protecting people with compromised immune systems and those who can not be vaccinated.
It is more likely that people with compromised immune systems or those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, are at risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19. In addition to that, in the study population involved in the clinical trials of vaccines, these people were not included. Hence, there is no data available that they will have the same effectiveness rate. Also, CDC recommends that if one had an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, he or she should not get the vaccine. So, if a person had an allergic reaction to the first dose, the CDC strongly advises against getting a second dose. With that, if you are fully vaccinated, it is recommended to keep wearing masks in order to protect those considered high-risk who are not vaccinated.
The vaccine is not an automatic off switch for the pandemic. As much as we would all like to hope that the vaccine means an instant return to normal, it would not happen as soon as we thought of. However, we are certainly on the right track.
So instead of being irresponsible if we are vaccinated, we must act better now because we have vaccines as one of our equipment in fighting our way to end this pandemic. With that, let us continue universal masking when in public, hand washing, avoiding large crowds and keeping physical distance when we are around others who are not fully vaccinated.
Hopefully, with our collective effort, we hope to see mask guidelines begin to change after sufficient people have been vaccinated and cases and deaths have been reduced. But until then, we must remain vigilant in our fight to control this health crisis.
- AARP. 2021. Should You Keep Wearing a Face Mask If You’re Fully Vaccinated?. Retrieved from: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2021/face-masks-vaccination.html. Retrieved on 18 August 2021.
- Centers For Disease Prevention and Control. 2021. When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Already Vaccinated? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Stop Wearing Your Face Mask Yet. Retrieved from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/already-vaccinated-heres-why-you-shouldnt-stop-wearing-your-face-mask-yet/. Retrieved on 18 August 2021.
- Healthline. 2021. Do You Need to Wear a Mask If You’re Vaccinated Against COVID-19?. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/do-you-need-to-wear-a-mask-if-youre-vaccinated-against-covid-19. Retrieved on 18 August 2021.