Ready to toss your mask as soon as you get vaccinated? Think again
As cases of the novel coronavirus increase nationwide, the newly released Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has given hope to some individuals that the virus can be stopped. Shipments of the vaccine arrived in all 50 states and Puerto Rico on Monday with healthcare workers and nursing home residents the first to receive a dose. While this is not the end of the pandemic, the vaccine gives hope that the nation will slowly recover from the damage that has been done and things might actually go back to “normal” soon.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw away your masks and other safety precautions just yet. Although a vaccine is available in the U.S., it’s not yet available to everyone nor is it the sole solution to defeating this pandemic. At the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading, it will still take months for the vaccine to be given to a significant number of people in order to curb the pandemic. Continuing to wear masks and following other safety precautions is essential in helping the vaccine work to its best ability. While Americans nationwide anxiously await the moment we no longer need to wear masks, Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force, assures us that we may be able to throw them away within the next year. So rest assured and keep your mask on, the end of the COVID-19 era may be near.
“I don’t believe we’re going to be able to throw the masks away and forget about physical separation in congregate settings for a while, probably likely until we get into the late fall and early next winter, but I think we can do it,” Fauci said while appearing by video conference at a Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual health event on Dec. 14.
“[It’s] not going to be like turning a light switch on and off. It’s not going to be overnight,” Fauci continued. “It’s going to be gradual, and I think we will know when we see the level of infection in the country at a dramatically lower level than it is right now that we can start gradually tiptoeing towards normality.”
This isn’t the first time Fauci has emphasized that the country will be wearing masks despite vaccinations being available. Last week he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that a vaccine being available will not influence state mandates on mask-wearing. “Until you have a virus that is so low in society, we as a nation need to continue to wear the mask, to keep the physical distance, to avoid crowds,” Fauci said. “We’re not through with this just because we’re starting a vaccine program—even though you as an individual might have gotten vaccinated, it is not over by any means. We still have a long way to go.”
As the number of COVID-19 cases increases nationwide and the death toll rises with more than 300,000 deaths as a result of coronavirus, Fauci reminds Americans that the pandemic is still an issue and that we must all continue “to implement the public health measures to prevent the surges we’re seeing throughout the country,” NPR reported.
According to NBC News, Fauci predicts the “ordinary” American, or all Americans despite risk level, may be able to have access to the vaccine as early as the end of March or early April, however safety precautions still must be followed. He added that by late spring or early summer of 2021 he hopes the U.S. will attain “that umbrella of herd immunity.”
“By the time we get to the fall, we can start approaching some degree of relief where the level of infection will be so low in society we can start essentially approaching some form of normality,” Fauci said.
He said extraordinary public health measures—such as mask usage, event cancellations, and enhanced hygiene protocols—are likely to continue “several months into the second half and beyond of 2021.”
“Only when you get the level of infection in society so low that it’s no longer a public health threat can you then think about the possibility of then pulling back on public health measures,” Fauci said.
Other health officials have reiterated Fauci’s concerns noting that immunity to the virus will take a number of months. According to Business Insider, similar to the flu shot that does not guarantee a lack of infection the vaccine does not guarantee immunity. “The moment you get a vaccine doesn’t mean you’re going to put your mask in the trash,” Maria Elena Bottazzi, a vaccine developer at Baylor College of Medicine told Business Insider.
While the success rate of Pfizer’s vaccine and the fact that it is being shared in the U.S. should be celebrated it does not mean individuals should stop safety precautions and resume their “normal lives.” A vaccine being available is not equivalent to the end of a deadly virus. Health officials have recommended people should continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings until the pandemic is actually over. While we have come a long way in fighting COVID-19, we are not at the end yet. Keep that mask: you need it for not only your safety but the safety of others.