• U-earth Biotech

Why it is important to continue wearing a mask after vaccination

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Jessica Hawkins and man wearing U-Mask at W Series

Our kit of resources to fight the pandemic, such as face masks, physical distancing, hand washing and indoor ventilation, will be required for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, becoming vaccinated does not automatically mean we can return to our previous lives. The vaccines are certainly a step in the right direction and a reason to celebrate but they do not mean the end of the pandemic.

The vaccines can be seen as another layer of protection against COVID-19 until we reach herd immunity.

But why is it so important to continue wearing a mask after vaccination?

1. The vaccination takes a while to take effect

“Regardless of which vaccine you get, you won’t reach full protection until two weeks after your second or final dose.”

That’s about how long it takes for your immune system to mount an antibody response to the vaccine. The number of doses needed depends on the type of vaccine. You do have a partial immune response after the first dosage, but it does not imply you are protected the moment the needle is inserted into your arm. For example, the Pfizer two-dose vaccine has 94% effectiveness at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection, but studies show that the first dose is only about 52-61% effective.

2. The vaccines do not provide 100% protection.

“Although the vaccines are extremely efficient, they only provide between 51% and 95% protection.”

That being said, if vaccinated people do get sick, they are likely to have milder symptoms; in general it is very rare for someone vaccinated to experience severe illness or die. In fact, the protection against severe diseases or hospitalisation, immediately after the first dose of the vaccine, is between 77% and 100%. Correctly wearing a mask adds an extra layer of protection.

3. Those who have been vaccinated may transfer the disease

“Vaccines protect against disease, but further study is needed to see if they also protect against transmission.”

Preliminary evidence seems to suggest the COVID-19 vaccines make it less likely someone who’s vaccinated will transmit the coronavirus, but the proof is not yet certain. Experts are concerned that those who have been vaccinated might still become sick without showing symptoms and then transfer the virus to people who have not yet been inoculated. If those who have been vaccinated do not continue to wear a face mask until others have been vaccinated, the virus may spread.

4. Those who are unable to be vaccinated must be protected

“There are still a few groups who should either avoid being vaccinated for now or carefully weigh up the risks and benefits with a health provider.”

These include:

  • those with a history of specific allergies;

  • children under 12;

  • people with pre-existing health conditions and chronic medical problems.

Less is known about people with a weakened immune system and only small numbers have been enrolled in vaccine trials. It is possible their immune response to the vaccine may be weaker, and that they may therefore be less well protected.

The same is true for those who are pregnant - since they were excluded from vaccine clinical trials, there is not enough data to say whether they are safe. The WHO doesn’t recommend receiving a vaccination when pregnant but it can be discussed with a healthcare provider if the person has an unavoidably high risk of exposure.

If you are completely vaccinated, it is best to avoid those who are deemed high-risk and haven't been vaccinated. Wearing a mask is one of the ways we can keep these people protected.

5. New variants may present new risks

“Over the course of the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has mutated enough to change both its ability to spread through the population and its ability to infect people.”

Viruses mutate over time to adapt to their environment and improve their survival. Public Health England has reported that both the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective against the delta variant. Pfizer/BioNTech reached 88% effectiveness, while AstraZeneca achieved a level of 60%. Moreover, they are still over 90 percent protective against hospitalisation. Some variants are more contagious and can result in greater severity of illness. Thus, the best decision is that of still wearing a mask even after having been vaccinated.

6. Masks protect against other respiratory illnesses as well

“Flu cases reported to the World Health Organization from both Northern and Southern Hemispheres have gone to minimal levels since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”

The explanation, according to epidemiologists, is that public health measures used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as mask use and social distancing, also prevent the flu and other respiratory illnesses. One of the main reasons for this is that we were all protected by face masks.

For all of these reasons, the WHO has urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks indoors and outdoors when needed, and to continue practicing physical and social distancing. Stopping the spread at the source remains key. Current measures to reduce transmission continue to work against new variants by reducing the amount of viral transmission and therefore also reduce opportunities for the virus to mutate.