Now that vaccine distribution is running more smoothly in Alabama, a topic has come up that warrants some explanation. People who have been vaccinated are wondering if they can discard their masks. This is an excellent question. The short answer is no, you should not discontinue wearing a mask right now. Here’s why:
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are extremely safe and effective. In their trials, each was around 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 after the 2-dose series, but 95 percent is not 100 percent. So, even after both doses of the vaccine, there’s still about a 1 in 20 chance that you could develop Covid-19. Wearing a mask is an added layer of protection to help keep you from contracting this potentially lethal disease.
Secondly, the trials were designed to test whether the vaccine could prevent symptomatic Covid-19. They were not designed to test whether a person could develop asymptomatic infection, or whether a vaccinated person could transmit the virus. To obtain that information would require much more time and much more extensive testing and contact tracing of people in the study. To wait for this information prior to rolling out the vaccines would have delayed their release significantly. We may eventually have an answer to those questions, but for now, wearing a mask can help to prevent you from transmitting the virus if you have asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic Covid-19 after vaccination.
Lastly, there have been multiple variants of the virus to arise over the past few months. The Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccines are effective against the strains that we know about so far, but there is always the possibility that a variant could arise that is not covered by the currently available vaccines. Wearing a mask is just another way to protect yourself and those you love if such a strain were to enter our community.
We continue to wear masks in the hospital to help protect our patients and our staff against Covid-19. We recommend that you continue to wear a mask in the community when you are around people who are not from your household until we have reached a point that disease activity and transmission are at very low levels. We are all looking forward to the end of this pandemic. Wearing a mask continues to be an effective strategy for preventing the spread of Covid-19.
Michael Roberts, M.D., internal medicine specialist and hospitalist with Internal Medicine Associates. He is also EAMC's current Chief of Staff.