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Some people may think that wearing a mask or continuing to practice social distancing are not necessary steps if they've been infected with or vaccinated for COVID-19. But that's not true, says Abinash Virk, M.D., a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert. Even those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 still need to wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
"Until we have more information about how this vaccine impacts what we call asymptomatic transmission, we still have to wear the mask," says Dr. Virk. "Although we may be protected from severe infection, or even getting symptomatic COVID-19 infection, we don't know if people may pick up the virus and transmit it to somebody else. These studies — both Pfizer and Moderna — were really designed to see if the vaccine can prevent the symptomatic infection. They weren't designed to study if we can prevent transmission from one person to the other."
Gregory Poland, M.D., a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert and head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, says this mask question is becoming increasingly common, as more people are vaccinated for COVID-19. He concurs with Dr. Virk, noting there are three good reasons to continue wearing a mask.
"Number one, while the vaccine reduces your risk, it does not eliminate the risk of being exposed to having the disease and asymptomatically transmitting the virus to others," says Dr. Poland. "Remember that even the best of these vaccines is about 90%–95% effective, meaning, you might still have a 1 in10 or 1 in 20 chance of being exposed and getting the disease. So the mask is protecting you."
The third reason is related to these new mutant variants and other variants still to come.
"The vaccine might protect you against death, but maybe your protection against disease ends up being about 50%–60%," says Dr. Poland. "If that's true, then we still want to wear masks to prevent disease and prevent the spread of those variants which could then mutate further causing even more infections."
Dr. Virk says Mayo Clinic is looking to study the impact of vaccination on asymptomatic carrier state and transmission.
"We hope Mayo Clinic staff will participate when the study is announced and, hopefully, we will have information in the next few months," says Dr. Virk.
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.