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With the delta variant spreading across the United States and the increasing number of states dropping pandemic mask mandates, experts warn that even those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may be at risk.
Considering the threat presented by delta and other coronavirus variants, should vaccinated people continue to wear masks? Experts say vaccination doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re completely protected from developing COVID-19.
â€œAlthough the chance of contracting COVID-19 is low once an individual has been vaccinated, it is not zero,â€ Teresa Murray Amato, MD, chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York, told ishonest.
CDC director: Vaccine offers â€œhigh degreeâ€ of protection
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said last week in a briefing that vaccines are still highly effective against the variants and that the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases and deaths are in unvaccinated people.
Amato advised that people with a high chance of severe disease should consult a healthcare professional regarding mask use.
â€œIf you are vulnerable to a poor outcome with a COVID-19 infection due to an underlying condition, please speak to your doctor regarding the risk and benefits of wearing a mask,â€ she said.
She added that masks reduce transmissions.
â€œWe know that vaccination and masking wearing decrease the spread of COVID-19,â€ said Amato. â€œThe more we can decrease transmission, the more we can decrease that chance of new variants emerging.â€
Groups in favor of staying masked up
The County of Los Angeles Public Health already â€œstrongly recommendsâ€ masking for all regardless of vaccination status.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks indoors and practice physical and social distancing as the delta variant increases in many parts of the world.
Amato noted that the unpredictability of the pandemic creates difficulty in informing public health policy.
â€œAs we continue to move through the many phases of the COVID pandemic, we continue to have challenges regarding recommendations for donning masks,â€ she said.
Who should still wear a mask?
The current CDC guidance is that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing.
â€œI do not believe that the CDC needs to change guidance at this time for vaccinated people as there is very good evidence that vaccinated people are very rarely infected with COVID-19,â€ said Dr. Eric Cioe-PeÃ±a, director of global health for Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York.
He emphasized that when vaccinated people acquire the coronavirus, â€œthey have extremely mild symptoms and are less able to pass on disease to other people, especially when others are also fully vaccinated.â€
He said, however, unvaccinated people should â€œabsolutelyâ€ wear masks until theyâ€™re vaccinated because they are at risk of contracting and experiencing more severe disease due to variants. He added that COVID-19 variants donâ€™t represent a significant threat to vaccinated people.
Cioe-PeÃ±a stressed that the delta variant and others (like delta plus) are more contagious and can result in greater severity of illness.
â€œFortunately, all of the vaccines approved in the United States have demonstrated very good efficacy against delta and all other circulating variants,â€ he said.
He also cautioned that a variant could develop that would dodge vaccine- induced immunity, â€œas has been demonstrated in some of the vaccines that are not approved for use in the United States but are being used throughout the world,â€ he added.
The presence of the delta variant should be a â€œvery sobering reminderâ€ that the pandemic is not over, Cioe-PeÃ±a said.
â€œWe must continue to vaccinate the world and the rest of the United States,â€ he said. â€œWe are not done. There is still much work to be done, and we cannot relax just because we are winning.â€
The bottom line
There is controversy over whether fully vaccinated people need to continue to wear masks and follow physical distancing.
While the WHO recommends that everyone needs to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status, the CDC maintains that fully vaccinated people donâ€™t have to do so.
Experts insist the currently approved vaccines are highly effective against COVID-19 and its known variants. However, they also say that those with a high chance of experiencing severe disease should consult a health professional before deciding to stop wearing masks.
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