face covering



Should I continue to wear a face covering after I get the vaccine?

18 March 2021

Although the COVID vaccines are highly effective, those that have been approved so far only provide up to 95 per cent immunity against the virus. There’s no way of knowing who the 5 per cent will be who don’t respond to the vaccine and will still be at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Wearing a face mask can limit your exposure to the virus, which should greatly lower your chances of becoming ill, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

No vaccine is effective straight away. It takes about two weeks for your immune system to make the antibodies that block viral infections. COVID vaccines will take a little longer because some require two doses, spread out weeks apart, to take full effect.

Depending on the vaccine, it can take four to six weeks from the initial dose to achieve immunity and protection levels comparable to those in clinical trials. During this time it is still possible to become infected and sick with the virus.

Although COVID vaccines should protect you from getting sick with the virus, it’s still unclear if they stop you spreading it to others. While the vaccines clearly prevent severe illness, researchers need more time to determine if they also prevent transmission.

Studies of COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected. So we don’t know whether a vaccine prevents asymptomatic infections and if there’s still the possibility that a vaccinated person could transmit the virus unknowingly to others who have not been vaccinated yet.

Because there’s still a chance that you could be a silent carrier even after getting vaccinated, it’s important that you continue to protect others while they wait for their turn to receive the vaccine. 

We know that people with chronic medical conditions like heart disease and cancer are at risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. And since this population wasn’t involved in clinical trials, we can’t assume that they’ll have the same effectiveness rate as the general population.

So if you’re fully vaccinated, it’s recommended you continue to wear face masks to protect those who are high-risk and others who won’t be fully vaccinated. 

Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population is exposed to the virus, typically through vaccination, which in turn limits the ability of the virus to spread. It is going to take time to widely distribute the vaccine around the world and achieve herd immunity.

Experts believe that 50 to 80 per cent of the population will need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. The actual figure remains to be determined. So until we achieve herd immunity, it’s important that we all take steps to protect one another; and masks will continue to be crucial in stopping the spread. 

As countries open up and people travel more, opportunities for exposure to different viral strains increase. We don’t know how long the vaccines in development will remain effective as the virus continues to evolve over time.

Therefore continuing to wear a face covering is important because of new COVID variants which are thought to be more contagious. 

The length of vaccine protection is yet to be determined and will be monitored as vaccination campaigns are rolled out. It can take months to years to fully understand the long-term effectiveness of the vaccines. And even if you have a good response to the vaccine, only time will tell whether boosters beyond the initial vaccination schedule will be needed to maintain protection.

Love them or loathe them, masks have become a critical part of the world’s response to COVID-19 and wearing them will continue for at least a little while longer.

“Masks continue to be a key measure to suppress transmission of the virus and save lives,” according to the World Health Organisation - at least until the majority of people worldwide have been vaccinated, and we know more about how the vaccine works in the long-term.