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Medical experts say you’ll still need a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine



TOPEKA, Kan.— According to medical experts, receiving a coronavirus vaccine is one way to help keep communities safe. However, some people who have been fully vaccinated may be surprised to hear they still have to follow safety protocols, like wearing masks or social distancing.

Dr. Clifton Jones, an Infectious Disease Specialist at Stormont Vail Health explained why following certain protocols can help reduce the risk for spread.

“For protecting other people, and to continue to mitigate against further spread, social distancing and mask use will continue to be important,” Dr. Jones said in an interview with Kansas’ Capitol Bureau on Wednesday. “I think ultimately, we will see a dramatic decrease in case numbers and our advice will change when we get to that point in time.”

There have been no rigorous studies conducted to analyze whether people can spread the virus as of yet, but some medical experts say it’s not likely. Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard Medical School has written in the New England Journal of Medicine there’s reason to remain optimistic about the vaccine’s effect on disease transmission given findings from the clinical trials and population-based studies, which suggest the vaccines ‘powerfully’ protect against disease and transmission.

However, Sax warned historically, some vaccines have allowed for asymptomatic colonization, which is the presence of bacteria on a body surface (like on the skin, mouth, intestines or airway) without causing disease in the person. Sax said this could also be the case sometimes for coronavirus vaccines.

“The protective effect will never be 100%, which is why while case numbers are still high, we still recommend the use of social distancing and masking in public,” Sax wrote in an updated comment Wednesday. “These caveats notwithstanding, the likelihood that these vaccines will reduce the capacity to transmit the virus to others remains excellent.”

In a Q&A session with Mayo Clinic, Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert, who also appeared in a media briefing with the University of Kansas Health System warning against the use of vaccination as an “immunity passport,” said that medical experts do not have ‘good evidence’ to support coronavirus vaccines prevent against asymptomatic infection. He explained how coronavirus has the potential to spread, using the flu vaccines as an example. Dr. Poland confirmed getting the flu vaccine does not prevent someone from transmitting the flu to someone else.

“The main important point about getting the [flu] vaccine is you do decrease transmission, you don’t prevent it entirely, and you do prevent the complications of influenza,” Poland said.

Like Poland and other medical experts, Dr. Clifton Jones agreed that herd immunity, or reaching an immunity level within the U.S. population of about 80% through vaccines, is what will lead to less concern about transmission of the virus. This number could rise as new, more infectious, COVID-19 variants emerge.