Can you stop wearing a mask after getting the COVID vaccine?

Coronavirus

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/NEXSTAR) — So you’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine, can you take off your mask for good?

Rodney Young, M.D., with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said the short answer is no.

“I know everybody would like to like to have the opposite answer to that, but the reality is that getting the vaccine, even after getting the second vaccine, it doesn’t confer full immunity to this,” said Dr. Young.

Dr. Young said there are a couple of things to consider. One of them being there is still about a 1-in-20 chance that you could still contract COVID-19 after both doses of the vaccine. Current data suggests that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are the only two available in the U.S. as of now, are 95-percent effective at preventing you from contracting Covid.

“It doesn’t tell us with confidence yet, from those data, that you could not contract the virus and have an asymptomatic course,” said Dr. Young.

Though the vaccine protects you from contracting a severe case of COVID-19, researchers have yet to determine if it also halts transmission, or spreading from person-to-person.

“Individuals might say, ‘You know, what, 95% reduction, that’s good enough for me,'” said Dr. Young, “and it’s sort of predicated on the idea that you couldn’t become a source of harm for others. The data tells us that’s not yet proven … We just don’t have a perfect answer for that yet, but even if you didn’t get the infection, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t spread it to your grandmother who you went to visit unknowingly.”

Another topic Dr. Young discussed was continuing to avoid mass gatherings. He said though you may be vaccinated, we are still “definitely nowhere near” the point where mass gatherings are a safe option.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University of California, said vaccinated people could form what he called “immunity bubbles,” much like the “COVID bubbles” we saw at the start of the pandemic.

“It’ll be even more liberating,” Chin-Hong says. “A small group of people who’ve been vaccinated can probably get together.”

Dr. Young said he thinks the concept of an immunity bubble has merit, but it may be challenging to assure the precautions are taken.

“If you form an immunity bubble, where you socialize with a limited number of people, all of whom have been properly immunized, and particularly if within the community bubble you still take some reasonable efforts to not smother each other with you know, germs … it is considerably less risky,” said Dr. Young. “That’s a step we are likely headed towards.”

Dr. Young said everyone that comes and goes from the immunity bubble has some degree of exposure to the population. He said someone could become infected and bring it back to the group. While the risk is not high, it also is not at zero.

The bottom line: Stay away from large crowds and continue to wear your masks whether you’ve been vaccinated or not.

Chin-Hong stressed that “there will be a transition period, and people need to be patient for the rest of society.”

“At this stage of our fight in this pandemic, wearing a mask, even though you’ve been vaccinated, is still advisable when you’re going to be around other people,” said Dr. Young.


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