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Masks will still save lives after most people are vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccines have started rolling in, and many people are rushing to sign up for their spot. Getting vaccinated means one can partake in some of their old favorite activities they enjoyed before the pandemic. However, just because one is vaccinated doesn’t mean that all safety precautions, such as wearing masks, should suddenly go away. We don’t know how the vaccine will affect the spread of COVID-19, and even though the goal is for vaccines to stop the virus, it’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves.

The vaccines have only been out for a few months, and according to the Virginia Department of Health, the vaccine is now open to anyone 16+. Even though many states have moved into Phase 2, it may still take a while for everyone to get vaccinated — whether it be because of one’s access to the vaccine or because they are resisting the shot for one reason or another. According to Cleveland Clinic, in order for us to reach hard immunity, 50% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated. Since this may take a while, it’s important for people not to expect they can stop taking all safety measures. This also means that people can actually go back to participating in certain activities such as partaking in a maskless gatherings with other fully vaccinated people. 

People should continue wearing face masks because it’ll protect them while their vaccine is kicking in. According to Cleveland Clinic, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to reach the 95% effectiveness rate after the Pfizer or Moderna shots. Since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, one is only partially immune after the first dose and won’t reach almost full immunity until two weeks after the second dose. For the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, one reaches almost full immunity two weeks after their first and only dose.

A main concern is that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective —the Moderna vaccine is 94% effective, and the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective, according to Live Science. 

Another concern is that vaccinated people can still be asymptomatic. Even though we know the vaccine prevents illness, we still don’t know if it prevents the transmission of the virus. Researchers are now concerned vaccinated people can become infected without symptoms and then spread it to others who haven’t been vaccinated. Silent spreaders have been a concern since the start of the pandemic, and if people stop wearing a mask, the virus may keep circulating.

Wearing masks is especially important to people with compromised immune systems. Despite signing up for the waitlist and constantly checking pharmacy websites, the spots for vaccines are getting taken so quickly that it can be extremely difficult for higher-risk people to get their vaccine. Even though they may be trying to stay home as much as possible, they may still have to go out into the world for their job or school.

It’s important that we don’t mess up any progress that’s been made. It’s pretty much unanimous that everyone doesn’t want to wear masks and wants to participate in social gatherings at some point, but people also need to understand that a process like this can’t be rushed. It would be a mistake to drop our guard while the end’s in sight.

Caroline O’Toole is a junior SMAD major. Contact Caroline at otool2ce@dukes.jmu.edu.