For many people, one of the most readily felt benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is the ability to stop social distancing, and stop wearing a mask to protect themselves.
Certainly, the vaccines are very effective. But experts are of the opinion that convincing reasons exist why it's still a good idea to both wear masks, and practice social distancing.
If you've been looking forward to getting back to life as it used to be, what follows are five reasons why a mask and social distancing can still be good ideas for the foreseeable future.
Vaccines don't work for everyone
Clinical studies have indicated that the vaccines currently available are about 95 percent effective. As impressive as that number is, however, it means that one in 20 people who get the vaccine remain as vulnerable as before.
It's also important to know how to read effectiveness numbers. Such figures are obtained in optimal laboratory conditions and controlled environments. Out in the real world, vaccines become less effective. The genetic material from the coronavirus that is present in the vaccines tends to be fragile, and needs careful transportation and storage. Mistakes made along the supply chain could make the vaccines less effective. A mask, on the other hand, always protects you.
Vaccines don't begin to work right away
Vaccines take a while to begin working. In general, once your body receives a shot, your immune system takes about 15 days to produce antibodies that are able to protect you from infections. Coronavirus vaccines in particular, however, are known to take longer to act than other, more familiar vaccines. In addition, many kinds of coronavirus vaccine require two shots -- separated by weeks. You'll need to add the 15-day waiting period to those weeks. All put together, protection could take about seven weeks to arrive from the time you get your first shot. Until then, a mask makes sense.
Even with the vaccine, you may still spread the infection
People who are vaccinated against measles don't get sick with the disease themselves, and don't spread the infection to others, in addition.
Many other vaccines, like the flu shot, for instance, keep you from becoming sick, but don't stop you from spreading the infection to other people. At this time, researchers aren't completely certain which one of these categories COVID-19 vaccines fall into.
It's safe to go forward with the assumption that while getting the COVID-19 vaccine may keep you from getting seriously ill yourself, you'll still harbor the virus in your nose, and spread it when you sneeze or simply exhale. If you have the virus, wearing a mask keeps the virus from spreading to other people.
A mask can protect you if you have a weak immune system
If you suffer from certain kinds of cancer, or are on chemotherapy, your immune system tends to be compromised. Researchers aren't certain at this point about how much protection people get from the COVID-19 vaccine if they have cancer. One study (fda.gov/media/144245/download), for instance, finds that vaccines only offer protection to about three out of four people with cancer. People who tend to be allergic to ingredients like polyethylene glycol, that are found in many vaccines, are advised to skip vaccination, in addition. For people with health conditions like these, a mask is always a good idea.
There are new virus strains abroad
Finally, it's important to remember that new genetic strains of the coronavirus are reputedly 50 percent more contagious than the first variant. Certainly, studies (statnews.com/2021/01/08/pfizer-biontech-vaccine-mutation-contagious/) suggest that vaccines currently available offer immunity against them. Nevertheless, it would make sense, until researchers are completely certain, to take the precaution of wearing a mask.
As much as you may hope to toss your mask once you get your vaccine shot, a mask is still a great way to keep yourself protected and protect others.
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