This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fall a bombshell, announcing that it would lift almost all mask-wearing recommendations for Americans who are fully vaccinated against covid-19. The move elicited mixed emotions from many, including fears that it could hamper the decline of the pandemic. But one fear people shouldn’t have, based on the evidence to date, is that vaccinated people who remove their masks lead to more transmission of the virus.
From the outset, it is important to clarify something: there is nothing wrong with continuing to wear a mask as a person who has been vaccinated. Some people will continue to wear masks, both indoors and outdoors, for the foreseeable future – not because they “don’t believe in science”, but for a number of valid reasons, to want to reduce exposure to pollen to a simple personal preference. But I have seen readers, friends and many on social media continue to voice concerns that are simply not justified by what we know about the benefits of vaccination.
When the vaccine began rolling out late last year, experts were generally cautious about the potential risk of transmission from people vaccinated to others. Clinical trials were designed to test whether people would develop symptoms of covid-19, not whether vaccines would completely prevent infection (and by extension, transmission). And some existing vaccines, such as the one for whooping cough, do not really stop the infection from occurring, so it was reasonable to say that the risk was unknown at first.
However, real-world evidence has since made the answer to this question very clear, at least for the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer that almost all vaccinated Americans have taken: vaccines are incredibly efficient to prevent both disease and infection. Several studies, examining different populations such as Health workers and college employees, all found very low rates of confirmed infection among fully vaccinated people – as low as less than 1% for certain studies.
However, even these results underestimate the protection against transmission. Other research has shown that people vaccinated tender at produce much less virus than unvaccinated people when they are infected and with less virus, the chances of passing it on to others also decrease.
For now, we are less certain of the risk of transmission for the minority of people vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine (less than 10 million in the US have taken it so far, compared to over 100 million who received Moderna or Pfizer). Early research suggested that the vaccine should also provide substantial protection against infection. But this week the New York Yankees ad that eight of their employees, including one player, tested positive for the virus after all had received the J&J vaccine. Only one suffered from a mild illness. At this point, it is not known whether the cases are related – that is, the virus has spread between vaccinated people – or whether they caught the virus from one or more unvaccinated people. .
It is possible that someone can transmit covid-19 after vaccination – and people who have been vaccinated are always advised to take precautions when in close contact with people at high risk – but these rare events will not occur. no impact on the spread of the pandemic in the United States, which is currently driven by the many unvaccinated people (about 54% of the total American population). It is this group that now carries the worst of the pandemic, along with hospitals report that more than 99% of their recent patients with covid-19 are not vaccinated. In other countries with high vaccination rates, such as the UK and Israel, new cases are also occurring. Carry on collapse, even as they began to lift restrictions on distancing and social activities.
Another misconception about vaccines concerns the variants of the coronavirus that have emerged since the end of last year. Scientists are rightly concerned and are watching closely for the development of variants with mutations that could allow the virus to evade the immunity provided by the vaccine. The bottom line is, the right kind of mutations might even require booster shots. But now let it be the New York variant or the British variant (which has since become the dominant strain in the United States), there is simply no proof that our vaccines here don’t work against the virus.
There are a few reasons to be concerned about the CDC announcement. Even some experts generally favorable changes were baffled by the speed of the decision, which CDC director Rochelle Walensky would have constituted his mind roughly a day before Thursday’s announcement. Some have argued that these changes should have been tied to concrete goals, such as achieving a certain national vaccination rate or a daily average of cases. Many are also concerned that anti-vaxxers will simply lie about their status and be unmasked, which in turn will increase the risk of overall exposure for frontline workers and people who are still unable to get vaccinated, such as children under 12 or those with certain chronic illnesses.
These fears may not materialize, the pandemic is expected to continue to decline, and vaccine reluctance shrink. In summer it is likely that US cases will be at the lowest level, limiting the absolute risk to everyone, vaccinated or not. In late fall, kids of all ages can start get access to the vaccine as well.
Whatever happens, no one should be blamed for being suspicious of the near future. Everyone is also required to wear masks when using public transport and at airports, hospitals, and wherever local laws and private companies still dictate. But just keep in mind that if you are vaccinated and unmasked, you are much more protected against covid-19 than you were with a mask and unvaccinated. And you are definitely not a transmission time bomb.