Why fully vaccinated people still need masks indoors

The CDC now recommends that vaccinated people wear masks almost everywhere in indoor public places. This is why it is a good idea.

Stay tuned for Covid-19 updates

Thanks to the rapidly spreading Delta variant and the waning immunity of past vaccines, it’s still mask season in the United States, even for fully vaccinated people who are in just about every part of the country.

“The guidance in this situation and the evidence we have about wearing masks has really evolved as the Delta variant took off,” said Jennifer Balkus, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. . “[Masks are] an incredibly important and easy and accessible tool to use. There is no doubt about their efficacy.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings, only in areas of the country with “significant or high transmission rates.”

However, according to the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker (as of September 10, 2021), 97 percent of the country is now believed to have substantial or high-speed transmission. That means if you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll basically need to wear a mask in indoor public places, no matter where you are.

The mask recommendation has never gone away for people who have not been vaccinated, so if you have not been vaccinated and are 2 years or older, you should wear a mask in indoor public places.

Here’s what we now know about wearing masks for fully vaccinated people.

CDC COVID Data Tracker: Country Transmission Rate of Covid-19 from September 10, 2021

The number of Covid-19 cases is rising

Covid cases are on the rise, especially in areas with higher rates of unvaccinated people like Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.

There were more Covid-19 hospitalizations this Labor Day than last year. Idaho’s health care system is so overloaded that officials are now rationing care.

To date, approximately 40 million people in the US have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Even vaccinated people can get infected

The three existing Covid-19 vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant, but not as effective as against the original strain of the virus.

That means you can get infected and sick even if you’ve had your one Johnson & Johnson injection or your two Pfizer or Moderna injections. These are called breakthrough infections. (Two weeks after your last Covid-19 vaccination, you will be considered fully vaccinated.)

And while breakthrough infections are usually relatively mild in vaccinated people compared to infections in unvaccinated people, they can be serious.

“Breakthroughs are still a concern,” says Ravina Kullar, PharmD, fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and adjunct faculty at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. “I’ve seen breakthrough infections where people have been hospitalized, and we still don’t know the risk of complications after Covid.”

Infected vaccinated people can spread the virus

Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19, vaccinated or not, can still transmit the virus.

This is true whether you have symptoms or not, says Dr. Kullar. And Delta is much, much more contagious than the previous strain.

The number of virus particles in the nose and throat of an infected person is more than 1,000 times higher at Delta. A higher viral load means an easy spread.

According to one estimate, you only need to be in contact with a person infected with Covid-19 for one second to become infected yourself, says Dr Kullar.

Man at the doorway holding a sign asking to wear a protective face mask at the store's reopening during the coronavirus outbreakmixetto/Getty Images

The vaccine doesn’t fully protect some people

Vaccines do not work equally well for everyone.

People with a weakened immune system because they are taking immunosuppressants after an organ transplant, undergoing chemotherapy, have HIV/AIDS or develop another condition receive less protection.

Therefore, in August, the Food and Drug Administration approved a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna for people in this category.

If you are positive for SARS-CoV-2, regardless of vaccination status, you can infect someone who is more likely to become seriously ill.

Vaccines become less effective over time

Emerging evidence also indicates that the vaccine’s effectiveness declines over time, says Dr. kullar.

That is why the White House announced in September that it wanted to start rolling out boosters eight months after the first round. That initiative is awaiting green light from the FDA and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

And remember, the vaccine is not approved for anyone under the age of 12.

(Here are 7 things to know about Covid-19 booster shots.)

Masks are effective

Multiple studies confirm that masks work to slow down Covid-19 infections. No one knows exactly how much, but research shows that the reduction can be as much as 70 percent, 80 percent or higher.

But you have to have the right mask and wear it correctly.

“The fit of the mask is essential, even with a cloth mask,” says Dr. balcony. That means “making sure it fits snugly on the bridge of the nose and under the chin. It’s important not to have big holes.”

Surgical and N95 or KN95 masks are good, but aim to have at least two layers of cotton or cotton-blend, says Dr. Balkius.

“It should be breathable with no gaps around the nose and chin,” she says. “What’s comfortable for you is the most important.” You may need to wear them for more than a few minutes.

While surgical masks are disposable, cloth masks are washable, says Dr. balcony. Ideally, you would wear a new surgical mask with every new mask setting and wear washcloths after each use. The reality may not be so simple.

“The most important thing is to find that exercise balance and make sure you wear it,” says Dr. Balkus.