The Points Guy ran a piece promoting continued mask-wearing after full vaccination, framed as a recommendation from “health professionals.”
What prompts this is the World Health Organization recommending continued mask-wearing after full vaccination. What no one seems to report is that the World Health Organization isn’t offering advice to the United States but to the world and often to countries that are relying on China’s Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines which have lower levels of efficacy and likely much lower levels of reduction in spread. Chile, for instance, has continued to battle an epidemic despite vaccinating around two-thirds of its population (at least one dose, largely of the Coronavac vaccine).
The mRNA vaccines which represent the bulk of vaccinations in the U.S. have been reported by the CDC to be 90% effective against asymptomatic disease and likely even more effective than that against spread, since an asymptomatic vaccinated carrier will likely have a lower viral load, and shed virus for a shorter period of time.
It seems clear that the “Delta variant” of Covid-19 is more transmissible. And it’s going to cause clusters of cases in the U.S. focused largely on areas where vaccination rates are lower and especially where immunity from prior infection remains low. However at a population level it appears that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines remain protective. And older Americans, most at risk from the virus, also have higher rates of vaccination. So we shouldn’t see the same kind of overwhelming risk to the medical system we saw in earlier waves of the pandemic.
Indeed, even in the U.K. where cases have gone back up – where they’re relying predominantly on the less-effective AstraZeneca vaccine – they’re still seeing significant protection against severe disease. Hospitalization hasn’t risen in tandem with cases, yet at least.
We know that masks do have some effectiveness against spread of Covid-19. The best work seems to show a 25% reduction in spread with near-universal mask adoption. However what we mean by masking does too much of the work, and wearing 5 cent apiece blue paper masks from Target or Amazon does little to protect the wearer or others.
Good masks, universally and properly worn, do provide some measure of protection. And I plan to personally mask up in close quarter indoor settings, and on planes, during flu season. This is protection that Americans vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna do not appear to yet need from Covid-19, however.
TPG‘s sister health site makes this argument, and I don’t quite buy it,
“Mask wearing has proven to be an effective way to slow the spread,” Yu said.
“Vaccinations have allowed us to be together, but mask-wearing will continue to reduce the risks of variant spread and potential reversal of the openings. Knowing that this disease is mainly spread as aerosols, covering our mouth and nose is the most effective way [to reduce the spread].”
Mask wearing has been helpful especially where people wear decent masks and use them properly. There’s little risk of spread or severe disease once fully vaccinated, though some individuals may have lesser immune responses. Masks that are less-protective than N95s would be more protective of the wearer if the virus were spread primarily via respiratory droplets, rather than aerosols (cloth masks and thin paper masks aren’t going to help much with aerosols).
Oddly, the TPG piece ties continued mask-wearing for vaccinated individuals with “parts of Australia have gone into lockdown” which I’m truly perplexed by since Australia is pursuing a strategy of tamping down all outbreaks and eliminating community transmission, something the U.S. and most of the world that’s not an island nation isn’t in a position to follow. And most importantly because Australia flubbed its vaccine rollout. Very little prior infection in the population, combined with low vaccination rates, means nearly everyone remains vulnerable.
To be sure, there are reasons to still be concerned about Covid-19 even if a country has high penetration for an mRNA vaccine. For instance the rise in infections in Israel, even though the number of vaccinated people testing positive isn’t nearly as concerning as reports so far indicate.
Today the Wall Street Journal has the following alarming news. In the recent surge of cases in Israel involving the Delta variant, half of all newly infected adults had been fully vaccinated. I almost cried when I read that.https://t.co/2EaQMUHSa5
— Jeffrey Ely (@Jeffely) June 25, 2021
The mask mandate is no longer needed on planes. This would mean the end of most unruly passenger behavior on board and a return to inflight alcohol in coach, on American Airlines at least.