By Amy Rogers, MD, PhD
Some people who refuse the COVID vaccines argue there is no point to being vaccinated if you must still wear a face mask in public.
I won’t address the problematic, underlying assumption-that the main (or only?) reason to be vaccinated is to escape the inconvenience of covering your face.
But vaccinated people too may be wondering why the face mask recommendation has not been entirely lifted for them. So here’s the deal.
When Pfizer and Moderna (and Johnson & Johnson, etc.) implemented clinical trials of their new vaccines at warp speed last year, they needed answers to two critical questions: is the vaccine safe? Does the vaccine protect against sickness and death? The trials were designed to get those answers as quickly and cleanly as possible.
We now know that the vaccines are very, very effective at preventing COVID-19 disease and death (see my post).
But there’s another important question about vaccine efficacy that we do not know the answer. Does the vaccine reduce or eliminate asymptomatic viral transmission? In other words, if you’ve been vaccinated, you won’t get sick. But can you still carry the virus in your nose and infect other people?
We do not have good data yet on this question. The early clinical trials could have been designed to look at it, but adding this complexity would have delayed getting answers to the most important concerns.
Data are coming. A major clinical trial ( PreventCOVIDU) is now underway at twenty US college campuses. The study, which relies on thousands of college student volunteers, will tell us if the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine prevents spreading the virus to others. (coverage by Washington Post, LiveScience)
I expect the answer will be yes. Informal indications out of Israel and UK are pointing in that direction. But until the experiment is done, this is only an opinion. Should we risk our hard-won gains against the pandemic on a hunch? I don’t think so.
Wearing a face mask is easy, cheap, and reduces the chance that a person who unknowingly carries the virus will spread it to others. Until we know for sure that vaccination dramatically reduces this risk, it makes sense for vaccinated people to continue to wear a face mask in indoor settings where unvaccinated people are present.
Hopefully the PreventCOVIDU trial will give us the answer we want by autumn.
Current CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people:
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with other fully vaccinated people of any age
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with one household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness
- Travel domestically without a pre- or post-travel test
- Travel domestically or internationally without quarantining after travel
You should not:
- Visit indoors, without a mask, with people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19
- Attend medium or large gatherings
Have you been vaccinated yet? If you live in California and are age 16 or older, you’re eligible now!
Visit https://myturn.ca.gov/ to find appointments for a FREE vaccine near you.
Amy Rogers, MD, PhD, is a Harvard-educated scientist, novelist, journalist, and educator.
Originally published at https://www.amyrogers.com on April 22, 2021.