Photo by Alena Shekhovtcova from Pexels

Should Vaccinated People Continue Wearing a Mask?

More than a year has passed, and the world continues diving deep into the land of the unknown, hands clasped with a deadly virus. With the delta variant dominating most cases around the world, precautions against the pandemic can no longer afford to be tolerant. Thus, even though experts have previously laxed the mask policy for the vaccinated population, they are now urging everyone to wear masks again. 

Most transmissible

Since it first emerged, most experts agreed the COVID-19 delta strain is one of the fastest transmissible strains up to date. It is also one of the most dangerous variants. “The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and be an opportunist,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing Tuesday. “In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.”

New reports prove that fully vaccinated individuals can still transfer the delta variant at the same rate as non-vaccinated people spreading the original coronavirus strain. Many reports even argue that the delta variant’s spreading rate is as fast as chickenpox in the unvaccinated population. “If you have a vaccinated individual who is in a place with substantial or high transmission – and they’re contacting a lot of people – 1 in 20 or 1 in 10 could possibly lead to a breakthrough infection” even with a vaccine that’s 90 to 95% effective,” Walensky said.

Between the risk and the vaccine

Even with the vaccine, some risk remains. Sure, the virus is less deadly, but that doesn’t deem it any less serious. According to the emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Dr. Leana Wen, “Risk is cumulative.” 

Wen describes the vaccines as a very potent raincoat. And just like with any ordinary raincoat, results can vary considering the environment. In cases of mere drizzling, the coat can shield the individual, so is the case with normal to down hard rain. However, if you choose to go out into the rainstorm every day without extra precautions, chances are you might end up getting wet. 

She further explains that if individuals receive multiple encounters with a huge chunk of the unvaccinated population while living in a high-level transmission area, chances of a breakthrough infection will increase. 

The specific circumstances of vaccinated people wearing masks

Though masks are still required for the entire population in airports, trains, and hospitals, there are factors to consider in non-mandatory settings, even when vaccinated. First of all, a person should be aware of the vaccination status of all the people living in his household. Thus, if they live with immunocompromised or unvaccinated young or elderly, they should highly consider wearing masks in high-risk indoor environments. Though vaccination lowers the transmission rate of the virus, it does not eliminate them. 

Wen explains that the rate of coronavirus infection and vaccination in one’s area is another factor to consider. “These two are generally correlated: The areas with higher rates of vaccination also tend to have lower levels of infection,” she stated.

“If you’re living in an area where over 80% of adults are vaccinated, and the Covid-19 rates are very low, your chances of encountering an unvaccinated, infected person is greatly reduced. You are probably safer going without a mask there compared to, say, if you’re living in an area with less than 30% of adults vaccinated and where the Delta variant is surging.”

A more reason for vaccination

Despite all these alerting new findings, the COVID-19 vaccine is reducing the levels of transmission, albeit less effectively with the Delta strain. Moreover, the vaccine is what’s keeping people out of hospitals and overwhelming the health sector once again. According to the CDC, most coronavirus vaccines have the ability to decrease the risk of severe disease or death by ten times. 

The new CDC study suggests that “even jurisdictions without substantial or high COVID-19 transmission might consider expanding prevention strategies, including masking in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.”

COVID-19 Vaccination. (2021, July 27). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. #23 – I am vaccinated, what next? (2021). WHO.—i-am-vaccinated-what-next?gclid=CjwKCAjwxo6IBhBKEiwAXSYBswTp-HTKqXgyMv1dC1xRmizcBZnqtlzavblffOfuzsDICQKQH-Dc-RoC9RcQAvD_BwEHetter, K. C. (2021, July 8). When should vaccinated people wear masks now? An expert weighs in. CNN., M. C. (2021, July 30). CDC shares “pivotal discovery” on Covid-19 breakthrough infections that led to new mask guidance. CNN., A. U. T. (2021, July 27). “New science is worrisome”: CDC recommends wearing masks indoors, again. What that means for vaccinated Americans. USA TODAY.