While delta variant continues to spread across the globe, the USA decided to stop use pandemic masks. However, experts say that even though you are fully vaccinated, you may still be at risk. After all, vaccination cannot protect you from COVID-19 100%. Scientists found that Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines prevented 95% of illness1. It means that every one person in 20 remains unprotected.
Furthermore, doctors are on the same page as scientists. They report COVID-19 can also cause illness in vaccinated people. Moreover, the vaccines are not effective right away. The immune system needs two weeks to make antibodies. Covid vaccines need even more time to adjust your immune system. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need two doses, three and four weeks apart, respectively. Long story short, complete protection will be adequate after five or six weeks. Meantime people should continue to use their masks in their daily life.
The other problem is the transmission. Preventing transmission is the key to stop an outbreak. For example, the measles vaccine is protective against the infection itself, therefore the information. Vaccinated people do not spread measles. However, researchers need more time to evaluate whether covid vaccines prevent transmission. Covid vaccines prevent people from becoming sick. However, the people can still be infected and pass the virus to others2. "A lot of people are thinking that once they get vaccinated, they're not going to have to wear masks anymore," said Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University. "It's going to be critical for them to know if they have to keep wearing masks because they could still be contagious." World Health Organization (WHO) also suggests using masks to stop spreading the infection. Moreover, transmissions increase the chance of the new variants developing. Therefore, consistent use of the masks is still essential.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines are highly effective against the current strains. The new cases generally consist of unvaccinated people. However, if you have any underlying condition such as asthma and diabetes, the doctors suggest using a mask in your daily life. People with cancer are at high risk of covid3. Studies indicate that they become infected and die more than the normal population. However, doctors do not know the effects of vaccines on cancer patients. The studies have excluded that kind of patient so far. Prior studies with other vaccines suggest that immunosuppressed patients like cancer patients may not mount a good immune response as the normal population. Therefore, vaccines may not be as effective as they are in healthy people.
The nose is the main entrance in most respiratory infections as new coronavirus. The virus can multiply and induce the immune system to produce mucosa-specific antibodies. At the second encounter, these antibodies can stop the virus from multiplying and prevent spreading to the body. However, the coronavirus vaccines are injected intramuscularly, and intranasal mucosa is left unprotected. Some studies also suggest that vaccinated people without any symptoms may have a high amount of coronavirus in their noses. Therefore, the doctors suggest that wearing a mask combined with a vaccine can protect your nose and throat more effectively than vaccination alone. Furthermore, global health leaders are concerned about the new genetic mutation of the coronavirus. Although the vaccines still work against current strains, we do not know whether they will be protective against future mutations.
At last, masks cannot replace other measures to reduce the outbreak of COVID-19. Handwashing, social distancing, and staying home when you are ill are essential. The best way to end the pandemic is to combine masks, physical distancing, and vaccines for now.
Dr. Ahmet Tevfik Albayrak
1. Polack FP, Thomas SJ, Kitchin N, Absalon J, Gurtman A, Lockhart S, Perez JL, Pérez Marc G, Moreira ED, Zerbini C, Bailey R, Swanson KA, Roychoudhury S, Koury K, Li P, Kalina WV, Cooper D, Frenck RW Jr, Hammitt LL, Türeci Ö, Nell H, Schaefer A, Ünal S, Tresnan DB, Mather S, Dormitzer PR, Şahin U, Jansen KU, Gruber WC; C4591001 Clinical Trial Group. Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine. N Engl J Med. 2020 Dec 31;383(27):2603-2615. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2034577. 2020 Dec 10. PMID: 33301246; PMCID: PMC7745181.
2. Bundgaard H, Bundgaard JS, Raaschou-Pedersen DET, von Buchwald C, Todsen T, Norsk JB, Pries-Heje MM, Vissing CR, Nielsen PB, Winsløw UC, Fogh K, Hasselbalch R, Kristensen JH, Ringgaard A, Porsborg Andersen M, Goecke NB, Trebbien R, Skovgaard K, Benfield T, Ullum H, Torp-Pedersen C, Iversen K. Effectiveness of Adding a Mask Recommendation to Other Public Health Measures to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Danish Mask Wearers : A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2021 Mar;174(3):335-343. DOI: 10.7326/M20-6817. Epub 2020 Nov 18. PMID: 33205991; PMCID: PMC7707213.
3. Moujaess E, Kourie HR, Ghosn M. Cancer patients and research during COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review of current evidence. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2020 Jun;150:102972. DOI: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2020.102972. Epub 2020 Apr 22. PMID: 32344317; PMCID: PMC7174983.