For several months, people around the world have been taking drastic measures to battle COVID-19. We have been taught to practice safe habits like social distancing, wearing a face mask, and twenty-second handwashing. These methods have been proven to reduce transmission. We are also waiting for a vaccine to combat the coronavirus once and for all, but did you know that in some ways wearing a face mask works in a similar way a vaccine would?
New research suggests that face masks filter out airborne virus droplets which lowers the amount of the virus that a person inhales. As a result, by limiting COVID droplet intake, there is a much lower chance of developing symptoms. Similarly to the way a vaccine works, immune response would be triggered by mask-wears in small enough doses to fight the virus that is not likely to cause serious illness.
As an example, in early outbreaks on cruise ships, before the widespread use of face masks, the rate of cases with no symptoms was about 20%. However, in an outbreak on one Argentinian cruise ship where face masks were mandated for all passengers and crew, the rate of asymptomatic cases rose sharply to 81%. This means that although people may still get the virus, they are less likely to develop symptoms. This helps build herd immunity to the virus in a similar way that a vaccine would.
A vaccine is still absolutely necessary, however, there is a lot of uncertainty around the vaccine as research and testing continually evolves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's director, Robert Redfield, said we all might be better protected by simply continuing to wear masks. Even when a vaccine becomes available he stated, “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” Here’s why.
The CDC stated that they will only approve a vaccine that is at least 50% effective. At this time, we do not have information on how effective the vaccine will be. On the other hand, masks have been scientifically proven to be anywhere between 65-95% effective in preventing the spread of the disease depending on the type of mask worn. “At best, a vaccine will be about 75% effective against moderate to severe disease," Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine said. "A mask, on the other hand, if used correctly and combined with social distancing, will be far more effective than that."
A vaccine is not likely to become readily available until the third quarter of 2021 according to a CDC congressional testimony. During this waiting period, it is essential to continue to wear a mask to limit the spread of the virus. Even when the vaccine does become available, it will take time for enough people to receive the vaccine to develop herd immunity.Typically, herd immunity is achieved when 50%-90% of the population is immune through natural infection or vaccination. Therefore, there is still a while before the population reaches this point.
Nevertheless, a vaccine is still needed to overcome this pandemic. Having an effective vaccine that is readily available is a safe, and fast way to develop immunity.
Ultimately, both mask wearing and a vaccine are needed to get the virus under control. Until a vaccine becomes available, our best protection against the virus is what we already have been doing. For now, please continue to do your part to mask-up to keep yourselves and others safe.
It is important to do your own research to form your own opinion. This article is simply intended to provide data on this topic.
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