As an emergency physician, Dr. Eugenia South was in the first group of people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. She received her second dose last week — even before President-elect Joe Biden.
Yet South said she’s in no rush to throw away her face mask.
“I honestly don’t think I’ll ever go without a mask at work again,” said South, faculty director of the Urban Health Lab at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe doing that.”
And although vaccines are highly effective, South plans to continue wearing her mask outside the hospital as well.
Health experts say there are good reasons to follow her example.
“Masks and social distancing will need to continue into the foreseeable future — until we have some level of herd immunity,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the University of Michigan. “Masks and distancing are here to stay.”
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The content of the article:
- 1 1.) No vaccine is 100% effective
- 2 2.) Vaccines don’t provide immediate protection
- 3 3.) Vaccines may not prevent you from spreading the virus
- 4 4. Masks protect people with compromised immune systems
- 5 5.) Masks protect against any strain of the coronavirus
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Century Village residents wait before appointments are handed out for the COVID-19 vaccine in West Palm Beach, Florida on Jan. 11, 2021. The community will receive 3,000 doses to use starting on Wednesday. Greg Lovett, The Palm Beach Post-USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Karen MacDonald, a nurse at Gates Middle School in Scituate, Mass. lays out her syringes while getting ready to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to first responders on Jan. 11, 2021. Robin Chan, Wicked Local via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Gabriel Fernandez, a registered nurse from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, injects a COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of an Emergence Health Network client with developmental disabilities at the EHN DayHab center in East El Paso on Jan. 7, 2021. Aaron E. Martinez, El Paso Times via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
A line of Duval County residents snakes around the campus of the Mandarin Senior Center on Hartley Road on Jan. 11, 2021, as people wait for COVID-19 vaccine injections at one of the two City of Jacksonville vaccine sites which opened Monday. Bob Self, Florida Times-Union via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Century Village resident Maria Cole shows identification to make an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine in West Palm Beach, Florida on Jan. 11, 2021. The community will receive 3,000 doses to use starting on Jan. 13, 2021. Greg Lovett, PALM BEACH POST via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Medical professionals from Oregon Health & Science University load syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru vaccination clinic in Portland, Ore., Jan. 10, 2021. The clinic is a partnership between the Service Employees International Union and Oregon Health & Science University, aiming to vaccinate Oregon’s 32,000 home health care workers and their patients. Pool photo by Kristyna Wentz-GraffFullscreen
James Hill, 69, who served separate stints in both the Army and Navy, left, holds his sleeve as Brent Myers, a CVS pharmacist, readies to administer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, at the Mississippi State Veterans Home in Jackson, Miss., Jan. 9, 2021. Hill was among the first residents to receive the Pfizer covid vaccination. Residents and staff at two of the four veterans homes were inoculated on Saturday with the vaccinations planned for the two other homes next week. The veterans homes were among the hardest hit senior living facilities by the virus. Rogelio V. Solis, APFullscreen
Patient care technician Carolyn Nesby, 62, holds still as medical assistance care coordinator Beatriz Pantoja administers the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at Rosewood Zaragosa Health Center in East Austin on Jan. 8, 2021. Bronte Wittpenn, Austin American-Statesman via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Certified medical assistant Maria Lawlor administers the Moderna coronavirus vaccine to Michael Burns, 62, at Rosewood Zaragosa Health Center in East Austin on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. Currently, vaccines generally are restricted to¤first responders, health care personnel, people 65 and older, and those 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition. Bronte Wittpenn, Austin American-Statesman/ USA TODAY NetworkFullscreen
Nurses have COVID-19 vaccines drawn and ready to administer as people pull into a bay at the former State Farm building in Murfreesboro, Tenn. to receive their first dose on Jan. 4, 2021. Helen Comer, The Daily News Journal via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
A woman takes a selfie with the medical worker who administered her COVID-19 vaccination at a drive-thru at Broadbent Arena in Louisville, Ky. on Jan. 4, 2021. Pat McDonogh, The Courier Journal via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Paulette Brown gets the Moderna vaccine, Jan. 3, 2021 during the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s vaccination point distribution at Brownsville Community Center in Pensacola, Fla. John Blackie, Pensacola News-Journal via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
April Smith, RN, puts a bandage on Jeanne Biada, 66, after vaccinating her and her husband, Gregory Biada, 68, during a COVID-19 vaccine distribution run by the Collier Department of Health at North Collier Regional Park in Naples. Fla. on Jan. 4, 2021. Alex Driehaus, Naples Daily News via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Herbert Bello, 88, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the King’s Point clubhouse in Delray Beach, Fla. on Dec. 30, 2020. GREG LOVETT, Palm Beach Post via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Seniors stand in line to make an appointment to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine outside the King’s Point clubhouse in Delray Beach, Fla. on Dec. 30, 2020. GREG LOVETT, Palm Beach Post via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Kellie Grover, left, receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine through the Knox County Health Department at the Knoxville Expo Center on Monday, January 4, 2021.
Brianna Paciorka, News Sentinel / USA TODAY NetworkFullscreen
A health-care worker reacts as she receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Lake-Sumter State College in Leesburg, Fla., on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Long lines of cars were at the site as the Lake County vaccines are currently being given to people who are 65 years and older and front line workers. Stephen M. Dowell /Orlando Sentinel via APFullscreen
Nurse Shanteria Johnson, who is with the Medical Reserve Core at the Alachua County Health Department, draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination session for local firefighters at the Gainesville Professional Firefighters Union Hall in Gainesville Fla., Dec. 31, 2020. Brad McClenny, The Gainesville Sun via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Cape Coral residents wait in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 30, 2020 during first day of vaccinations in the city at Cultural Park Theater. The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is offering COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk frontline health care workers and those 65 and older. Ricardo Rolon, The News-Press via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Winona McCain, 71, a resident at Patewood Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Greenville, S.C., raises her fist after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Jamie, a pharmacist with CVS on Dec. 28, 2020. MATT BURKHARTT, The Greenville News via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Friends Terri Kado,66, right and Patty Tubbs,68, from Fort Myers Beach wait in line for the the COVID-19 vaccine in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 2020 at Lakes Park Regional Library in Fort Myers, Fla. The two were having a pleasant experience and were watching the moon as it moved through the sky. To them the vaccine brings a peace of mind and a positive start to the New Year. They got in line at 12:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Andrew West/The News-Press, The News-PressFullscreen
CHEMED nurse and vaccine coordinator Tzipporah Zar shows a sticker patients get after they get their first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Center for Health Education, Medicine and Dentistry in Lakewood, N.J., on Dec. 28, 2020. Gustavo Martinez Contreras, Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District personnel administer COVID-19 vaccinations to colleagues during a test drive-thru event at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds in Corpus Christi, Texas on Dec. 23, 2020. Courtney Sacco, The Corpus Christi Caller Times via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Serena Russo, RN, holds a sign before her vaccination in Fitchburg, Mass. The Highlands Skilled nursing and Rehabilitation offered vaccines to their staff, Dec. 29, 2020. Christine Peterson, Worcester Telegram via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Jessica Miles, left, of CVS, gives resident Wanda Kilgore a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Linley Park Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Anderson, S.C., Dec. 29, 2020. The first dose of the vaccine was administered to 51 residents and 32 staff, with the second dose planned for Jan. 26, 2021. Ken Ruinard, Anderson Independent Mail via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Pharmacists prepare doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Life Care Center of Kirkland on Dec. 28, 2020 in Kirkland, Wash. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home, was an early epicenter for coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. Karen Ducey, Getty ImagesFullscreen
Henry Jackson, an employee of Lee Health in the transportation services department is one of the first front-line workers for Lee Health to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was administered at Lee Health Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers, Fla. on Dec. 22, 2020. Andrew West, The News-Press via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Chief Nursing Officer Robin L. Steaban, left, who administered the vaccine, stands with nurse practitioner Lisa Flemmons, Dr. Todd Rice, nurse Cody Hamilton and respiratory therapist Sophie Whitaker after they received a COVID-19 vaccine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 17, 2020. George Walker IV, THE TENNESSEAN via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
The CVS Health team arrives with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Sivercrest Health and Rehabilitation Center in Crestview, Fla. on Dec. 21, 2020. This was one of the first administrations of the vaccine in the state. Michael Snyder, The Northwest Florida Daily News via USA Today NETWORKFullscreen
Nurse practitioner Franklin Grauzer receives a high-five from his daughter, Emerson, 5, after he received a COVID-19 vaccine at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West in Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 17, 2020. Andrew Nelles, The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
VA pharmacist Wes Romanello carefully fills syringes of the COVID-19 vaccine to give to Chillicothe VA staff in Chillicothe, Ohio on Dec. 23, 2020. Robert McGraw, Chillicothe Gazette via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
VA nurse Sarah Hembre, left, gives Ed Tassy, a veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and now works at the VA as a physician assistant, the first Moderna COVID-19 vaccine delivered to the VA on Dec. 23, 2020. The VA received 1,000 doses to give to VA personnel and patients. Robert McGraw, Chillicothe Gazette via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Dr. Theresa Maresca from the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), lets a collegue write on her arm For the Love of Native People over the spot where she received a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, at the SIHB, on Dec. 21, 2020 in Seattle, Wash. The Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) received 500 doses of the FDA-approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine today. Karen Ducey, Getty ImagesFullscreen
A member of FDNY EMS gives a thumbs up while receiving the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on Dec. 23, 2020 in New York City. Members of FDNY EMS were given doses of the Moderna coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine allotted for the department. Michael M. Santiago, Getty ImagesFullscreen
Dr. Cletus Oppong, who specializes in occupational medicine, is the first to receive the first round of the Moderna vaccine by Clinical Pharmacist Erin Conkright on Dec. 24, 2020, at the Owensboro Health Regional Hospital in Owensboro, Ky. “It’s an exciting day,” said Oppong. Alan Warren, The Messenger-Inquirer via APFullscreen
Command Sgt. Maj. John Raines of the Mississippi National Guard, looks away as he receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in his arm, by a fellow guard member, Dec. 23, 2020, in Flowood, Miss. One hundred doses of the vaccine were administered to both Mississippi Air and Army National Guard service members who serve as first responders and currently assist with the administering of the COVID-19 test at Mississippi Department of Health drive through community testing sites across the state. Rogelio V. Solis, APFullscreen
Tim King, a citizen of the Cherokee nation and a Cherokee language speaker, receives ther COVID-19 vaccine at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center Dec. 17, 2020, in Tahlequah, Okla. On his left arm is a tattoo of a dreamcatcher with the word Cherokee. Mike Simons, APFullscreen
Long-term care patient Carlos Alegre receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from licensed vocational nurse Virgie Vivar at Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on Dec. 21, 2020 in Chula Vista, Calif. 72-year-old Alegre is the first patient to receive the vaccine in San Diego County. Long-term care patients and frontline workers are among those in the CDCÕs highest priority group for vaccination. Mario Tama, Getty ImagesFullscreen
Hartford HealthCare employee Wilfredo Rivera reacts after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 as Hartford HealthCare Nurse Laura Bailey, right, looks on at Hartford Hospital, Dec. 21, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. Hartford HealthCare was the first in the state to administer the Moderna vaccine. Jessica Hill, APFullscreen
Nursing student Abriana Martinez administers the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to Dr. Erik Pronske at the University of Texas Health Austin Dell Medical School on Tuesday December 15, 2020. Jay Janner, Austin American-StatesmanFullscreen
Lerma Ballesteros, left, a technical laboratory assistant with Diagnostic Laboratory Services, remains rock steady even as she is administered a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination during a temporary clinic conducted by Department of Public Health and Social Services workers and other support staff at the Okkodo High School cafeteria in Dededo on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Rick Cruz/PDNFullscreen
Pharmacy manager John Wininger prepares the COVID-19 vaccine at McLaren Greater Lansing hospital on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Lansing, Mich. Nick King, Lansing State Journal via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Marie Branham, right, resident services director at Atria Springdale assisted living community, receives the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine from CVS pharmacist Shereen Keshta at the facility in Louisville, Ky. on Dec. 21, 2020. Sam Upshaw Jr., Courier Journal via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Rochester General Hospital received the new Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and started vaccinating some of their high-risk healthcare workers on December 15, 2020. Nancy Nicoletta, assistant director of pharmacy, brings up a bag of the vaccine. The vaccine has to be kept at a very cold temperature. Tina MacIntyre-Yee/ Rochester Democrat and ChronicleFullscreen
Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss. on Dec. 20, 2020. While shipments of the vaccine are rolling out to many health care workers and nursing homes across the country, it could be months before itÕs available for the general public. Paul Sancya, APFullscreen
Dr. Julie Kennerly-Shah draws out a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as its distributed to healthcare workers on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center East in Columbus, Ohio. Vaccine shipments began arriving in Ohio on Monday and frontline health care workers have been the first to receive the vaccine. Joshua A. Bickel, Columbus DispatchFullscreen
RN Gisela Bunch administers the vaccine for COVID-19 to CVI outreach coordinator Lynde Sain at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital in Germantown, Tenn., on Dec. 17, 2020. Ariel Cobbert, The Commercial Appeal via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Allison Wynes, a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) nurse practitioner, records a video for her friends announcing she had received one of first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, on the 12th floor of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-CitizenFullscreen
Sandra Lindsay, left, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in New York. Mark Lennihan, APFullscreen
Courtney Schneider, 40, of Grand Rapids and her son, Elliot Schneider, 8, of Grand Rapids wave flags at the FedEx plane carrying the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Dec. 13, 2020. Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Detroit Free Press via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Susan Deur of Plainwell, center, and Nancy Galloway of Plainwell, applaud and cheer as they watch the trucks carrying COVID-19 vaccine leave at Pfizer Global Supply in Portage, Mich., Dec. 13, 2020. Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press via USA TODAY NETWORKFullscreen
Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Mich. on Dece. 13, 2020. POOL PHOTO BY MORRY GASHFullscreen
Nurse Chris Nelson gets the COVID-19 vaccine at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Andrew Craft, USA TODAY NetworkFullscreen
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Malani and other health experts explained five reasons Americans should hold on to their masks:
1.) No vaccine is 100% effective
Large clinical trials found that two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines prevented 95% of illnesses caused by the coronavirus. While those results are impressive, 1 in 20 people are left unprotected, said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Malani notes that vaccines were tested in controlled clinical trials at top medical centers, under optimal conditions.
In the real world, vaccines are usually slightly less effective. Scientists use specific terms to describe the phenomenon. They refer to the protection offered by vaccines in clinical trials as “efficacy,” while the actual immunity seen in a vaccinated population is “effectiveness.”
The effectiveness of covid vaccines could be affected by the way they’re handled, Malani said. The genetic material used in mRNA vaccines — made with messenger RNA from the coronavirus — is so fragile that it has to be carefully stored and transported. Any variation from the CDC’s strict guidance could influence how well vaccines work, Malani said.
2.) Vaccines don’t provide immediate protection
No vaccine is effective right away, Malani said. It takes about two weeks for the immune system to make the antibodies that block viral infections.
COVID-19 vaccines will take a little longer than other inoculations, such as the flu shot, because both the Moderna and Pfizer products require two doses. The Pfizer shots are given three weeks apart; the Moderna shots, four weeks apart.
In other words, full protection won’t arrive until five or six weeks after the first shot. So, a person vaccinated on New Year’s Day won’t be fully protected until Valentine’s Day.
3.) Vaccines may not prevent you from spreading the virus
Vaccines can provide two levels of protection. The measles vaccine prevents viruses from causing infection, so vaccinated people don’t spread the infection or develop symptoms.
Vaccine rollout: Vaccine administration is much harder than it seems
Most other vaccines — including flu shots — prevent people from becoming sick but not from becoming infected or passing the virus to others, said Dr. Paul Offit, who advises the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration on COVID-19 vaccines.
While the vaccines clearly prevent illness, researchers need more time to figure out whether they prevent transmission, too, said Phoenix-based epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, an assistant professor in the biodefense program at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
“We don’t yet know if the vaccine protects against infection, or only against illness,” said Frieden, now CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a global public health initiative. “In other words, a vaccinated person might still be able to spread the virus, even if they don’t feel sick.”
Until researchers can answer that question, Frieden said, wearing masks is the safest way for vaccinated people to protect those around them.
4. Masks protect people with compromised immune systems
People with cancer are at particular risk from the coronavirus. Studies show they’re more likely than others to become infected and die from the virus, but may not be protected by vaccines, said Dr. Gary Lyman, a professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Cancer patients are vulnerable in multiple ways. People with lung cancer are less able to fight off pneumonia, while those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment have weakened immune systems. Leukemia and lymphoma attack immune cells directly, which makes it harder for patients to fight off the virus.
Watch: California college rolls out vending machines for COVID test kits
Doctors don’t know much about how people with cancer will respond to vaccines, because they were excluded from randomized trials, Lyman said. Only a handful of study participants were diagnosed with cancer after enrolling. Among those people, vaccines protected only 76%.
Although the vaccines appear safe, “prior studies with other vaccines raise concerns that immunosuppressed patients, including cancer patients, may not mount as great an immune response as healthy patients,” Lyman said. “For now, we should assume that patients with cancer may not experience the 95% efficacy.”
Some people aren’t able to be vaccinated.
While most people with allergies can receive covid vaccines safely, the CDC advises those who have had severe allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients, including polyethylene glycol, to avoid vaccination. The agency also warns people who have had dangerous allergic reactions to a first vaccine dose to skip the second.
Lyman encourages people to continue wearing masks to protect those with cancer and others who won’t be fully protected.
Global health leaders are concerned about new genetic variants of the coronavirus, which appear to be at least 50% more contagious than the original.
So far, studies suggest vaccines will still work against these new strains.
One thing is clear: Public health measures — such as avoiding crowds, physical distancing and masks — reduce the risk of contracting all strains of the coronavirus, as well as other respiratory diseases, Frieden said. For example, the number of flu cases worldwide has been dramatically lower since countries began asking citizens to stay home and wear masks.
“Masks will remain effective,” Malani said. “But careful and consistent use will be essential.”
The best hope for ending the pandemic isn’t to choose between masks, physical distancing and vaccines, Offit said, but to combine them. “The three approaches work best as a team,” he said.