I know that we are all tired of wearing masks. It can be hot, hard to breath and difficult to speak. People feel claustrophobic or confined behind them. Personally, I, too, feel exhausted after a full day in my mask. However, they continue to serve an important role in controlling the spread of COVID … even after we are vaccinated. Evidence has proven that wearing a mask reduces the risk of infection up to 89% and can block 70% of expelled droplets and particles (CDC.org).
Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been released for public use. Many are fearful or wary of them for a variety of reasons. A main concern is that they were “rushed to market.” Last week’s article dispelled many of the myths and concerns the general public is having with the vaccines. The two vaccines have been put under rigorous testing and analysis, more than most vaccines on the market today. Concerns about the vaccines are understandable, but negative outcomes have been few and far between. However, due to the timely release of the vaccines and our inability to examine long-term effectiveness, several factors suggest that wearing a mask will continue to be vital in our fight against COVID-19. Therefore, we will not be shedding our masks anytime soon.
The distribution of the vaccine requires that each vial be frozen at very cold and constant temperatures. As they thaw, they lose effectiveness. Many facilities, especially in the rural parts of the country, do not have the capabilities to properly store the vaccines under the ideal conditions. It will take time to make these vaccine storage facilities safe for COVID vaccines. But fear not, as the details and logistics improve as you read this column, the vaccine will be available to the general public soon!
It is estimated that we need 80% of the population to get vaccinated for the infectious rate to swing in our favor. This means that we need the general public to unite and work as one to fight the spread of the virus. Yes, it is scary taking a new vaccine that has no long-term data, however, with over 1.5 million dead from COVID-19 it seems this is the best option. As a community, we have to band together, trust our science and act in the best interest of all.
Do not have a false sense of the security immediately following your vaccination! Pfizer reports that “it takes a few weeks” and Moderna reports 2 weeks for people to build up an immunity of 50% after the first vaccine. The timeline repeats again after the second vaccine resulting in 95% immunity. During that time, you are still able to contract and spread COVID-19. The use of masks during this time is necessary to keep yourself and others safe.
The clinical trials conducted on the vaccines did not examine if the participants should continue to wear masks. The study only investigated if the individual built up enough antibodies to become immune themselves. Therefore, we do not know if the participants could still be carriers of the virus and continue to infect others that were not vaccinated.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and lead member of the COVID Task Force, recently reported that there is some evidence that the Moderna vaccine may provide a vaccinated individual protection against spreading the virus. However, more time and data are required to confirm these findings.
It is important to remember that many immunosuppressed, autoimmune and pregnant individuals are not suitable for the vaccine. Until we are confident that vaccinated people are not “silent carriers” of the virus, the continued use of a mask is an important measure in protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Until long-term data is available on the vaccines, we do not know how long our immune system will continue to produce antibodies. Antibodies protect us against the virus. This will be monitored as the distribution of the vaccine continues. The good news is, that we have observed individual’s immune system maintain antibodies up to six months in those who recovered from COVID-19. It is expected that the vaccine will at least mimic that immune system response.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel … 2021 will be known as the year that the world took control of COVID-19! We will be shedding our face-protecting cloth companions soon enough. For now, we must wait, stay the course and continue to wear our mask, even after we are vaccinated. As time passes, we will know more about the vaccines and many of the uncertainties in this article will be answered. Until then, mask up, get vaccinated and be safe for yourself and others.
GUEST COLUMNIST: Paul Mackarey, Jr. DPT is clinic director at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC where he specializes in the prevention and treatment of neck and LBP.
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice in downtown Scranton and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.
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