Why Will We Still Need to Wear Masks and Social Distance after a COVID-19 Vaccine Becomes Available?

Dr. Paul Offit explains why it will still be important to follow public health measures (mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing) for some time, even after a vaccine becomes available.


Why will we still need to wear masks and social distance after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. When people ask me sort of what keeps me up at night? What do I worry about the most regarding this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic? It's this: I worry that when we do have a vaccine that people will think great, I'm protected. I can now throw away my mask. I can now not worry about social distancing. I can now engage in high-risk activity because I'm protected. These viruses now are just going to bounce off me. I'm good. But the truth is, is that if we had a very successful vaccine, I think everyone would be happy with a vaccine that was 75% effective at preventing moderate to severe disease, which would mean that 1 out of every 4 people who get that vaccine still could get sick with that virus. It would also mean that probably even a greater percentage than 25% could still have mild infection/mild disease or asymptomatic disease, in both cases of which you could still shed virus, you could still be contagious.

So I think until we get to the point that we have stopped the spread of this virus, even people who are vaccinated, immunized, are still going to need to wear a mask and still need to social distance as much as possible. Because if we don't do that, if we lose probably the most powerful tool that we have in the fight against this virus, which is these hygienic measures: masking, social distancing, washing hands, if we choose to eliminate that, I think we could actually take a step backwards.

So, it is still important to wear masks and social distance until we get control of this virus, and we haven't gotten control of it yet.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Nov 23, 2020