- Companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca have brought a lot of hope by developing coronavirus vaccines
- But other preventive methods such as social distancing will remain crucial
Masks have become an increasingly important defence against spreading and catching the coronavirus. But when you get the vaccine, does it mean you still need to protect and be protected?
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the virus and the vaccines.
Here are five good reasons to continue covering your nose and mouth after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
Large clinical trials found that two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines prevented 95 per cent of illnesses caused by the coronavirus. But the tests were done in a controlled clinical environment, under optimal conditions.
In the real world, vaccines are usually slightly less effective.
Scientists use specific terms to describe the phenomenon. They refer to the protection offered by vaccines in clinical trials as “efficacy,” while the actual immunity seen in a vaccinated population is “effectiveness”.
The effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines could be affected by the way they’re handled. The genetic material used in mRNA vaccines – made with messenger RNA from the coronavirus – is so fragile that it has to be carefully stored and transported.
Any variation from the strict guidelines laid out for the vaccines’ use could influence how well they work.
No vaccine is effective right away. It takes about two weeks for the immune system to make the antibodies that block viral infections.
Covid-19 vaccines will take a little longer than other inoculations, such as the flu shot; both the Moderna and Pfizer products require two doses, given some weeks apart.
In other words, full protection won’t arrive until five or six weeks after the first shot. So, a person vaccinated on New Year’s Day won’t be fully protected until Valentine’s Day.
Vaccines can provide two levels of protection. The measles vaccine prevents viruses from causing infection, so vaccinated people don’t spread the infection or develop symptoms.
Most other vaccines – including flu shots – prevent people from becoming sick but not from becoming infected or passing the virus to others.
While Covid vaccines clearly prevent illness, researchers need more time to figure out whether they prevent transmission, too. Until they can confirm the answer,
vaccinated people should continue wearing masks to protect those around them.
People with cancer are at particular risk from Covid-19. Studies show they’re more likely than others to become infected and die from the virus, but may not be protected by vaccines.
Cancer patients are vulnerable in multiple ways. Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation weaken a patient’s immune system. Some cancers attack immune cells directly.
Doctors don’t know much about how people with cancer will respond to vaccines, because they were excluded from randomised trials. What’s more, with their lowered immune systems, it’s possible a vaccine would not have as high efficacy for them anyway.
There are also people who won’t be able to be inoculated because they are allergic to ingredients in the vaccine.
Wearing masks will help to protect these more vulnerable individuals.
New genetic variants have popped up in recent weeks, which appear to be at least 50% more contagious than the original.
So far, studies suggest vaccines will still work against these new strains. But who knows what the future could bring.
One thing is clear: public health measures – such as avoiding crowds, physical distancing and masks – reduce the risk of contracting all strains of the coronavirus, as well as other respiratory diseases.
For example, the number of flu cases worldwide has been dramatically lower since countries began asking citizens to stay home and wear masks.
The best hope for ending the pandemic isn’t to choose between masks, physical distancing and vaccines, but to combine all three.