You should still wear a mask even if fully vaccinated, health professionals say
Nearly 60% of adults in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, and nearly 70% have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, positive cases and deaths have declined.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the most significant endorsement for the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines by relaxing indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people this spring.
And some pandemic-weary individuals eager for a return to normalcy likely want to see an end to more restrictions. But as mask mandates and social distancing requirements are relaxed in social settings, one health organization is still urging caution.
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On Friday, June 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that even fully vaccinated individuals — those who received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior — should still wear a mask as the Delta variant spreads.
“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, according to CNBC.
And Dr. Jenny Yu, the senior manager of medical integrity at Healthline Media (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), underscored the importance of continued mask-wearing.
"Mask wearing has proven to be an effective way to slow the spread," Yu said.
"Vaccinations have allowed us to be together, but mask-wearing will continue to reduce the risks of variant spread and potential reversal of the openings. Knowing that this disease is mainly spread as aerosols, covering our mouth and nose is the most effective way [to reduce the spread]."
The warning comes as the Delta variant strain of the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide. The Delta variant, which was first discovered in India, is quickly becoming the world’s dominant strain and has been traced to an outbreak of fully vaccinated adults in Israel, prompting that country to require mask-wearing again.
Additionally, parts of Australia have gone into lockdown and England delayed its final lifting of lockdown restrictions over concerns of the rising number of Delta variant COVID-19 cases there.
And, while millions of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated, states with lower vaccination rates could be particularly hard hit.
But for some people, the warning from WHO might have come a little too late as restrictions put in place at the start of the pandemic to curb the spread of the virus have been rolled back in several locations.
In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that fully vaccinated people could safely go maskless in most indoor and outdoor settings. The agency also slightly relaxed mask requirements aboard cruise ships, allowing fully vaccinated travelers to sit maskless in lounge chairs and around pools outdoors.
That move followed an announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most outdoor settings, which took effect in April. However, masks are still required on public forms of transportation for all individuals, including on planes and in airports through at least Sept. 13.
The CDC has emphasized that its guidance only applies to those who are vaccinated. Anyone who has not completed the entire vaccination course — two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna shots or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and waited for two full weeks should continue to wear masks.
States have also loosened entry restrictions for people who have been fully vaccinated. In Hawaii, for instance, fully vaccinated travelers will no longer have to go through pre-travel testing or quarantine upon arrival starting in early July.
Nina Westervelt/Bloomberg via Getty Images