FAQ: Why do I have to wear a mask even after getting vaccinated?

According to the latest numbers, in India a mere 13.78% of the population have taken their first shot while 1.97% have received both shots of the vaccine.
A representative image of a man wearing a mask
A representative image of a man wearing a mask
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Health officials in the US have said that it is no longer mandatory for their citizens to continue wearing masks in public if they have been vaccinated. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) too has endorsed the same in its latest guidelines. But does the same hold good for India? Experts in India continue to maintain that it would be advised that even if you have received both your vaccination shots, continue wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and insist on hand hygiene while in public. Letting one’s guard down is not an option, just yet.

Unlike in the US, where 61.3% of American (adults) have received at least one vaccine dose and about 49.6% are fully vaccinated, in India, a mere 13.78% have their first shot and 1.97% of the population have received two shots. This, despite India accounting for 19.08% of all active cases across the world. “In the US, most of the adults who can get infected have either been already infected or inoculated. Because of the saturation point that the US has reached, they can still afford to not wear masks. But this is not the case in India,” says Dr Pradeep Banandur, Professor and HoD of Epidemiology, NIMHANS.

Since in India, the penetration of the vaccine in the population is extremely low, it would be dangerous to abandon COVID Appropriate Behavior just yet, just because one has been fully vaccinated. More importantly, in India, transmission is still happening as evidenced by the number of coronavirus cases still being reported and the severity of the disease.  

The nature of the two vaccines commonly available in India -- Covishield and Covaxin -- too necessitate continuing to wear masks and maintaining distance while in public. Dr Pradeep says, “Infection is not completely prevented by vaccines. Both the vaccines available in India -- Covishield and Covaxin -- offer between 70-85% immunity against the coronavirus. But the other 15% chance of infection still remains. What the vaccines do is, even if you get infected, it will bring down the severity of the disease”. 

So with the majority of Indian population still not vaccinated, chances of a fully vaccinated person transmitting the disease still looms large. “If you do get infected after getting the vaccine, you may still be transmitting it to others,” he adds.

India has been witness to several new variants the last few months and while the vaccines have reportedly been effective against most of them, there has not been enough research on the exact efficacy of these variants. “Both the vaccines are shown to be effective against some of the variants but not all of them. The transmissibility of some of the new variants is very high and we do not have enough evidence to see how the vaccines will react to them,” says Dr Pradeep.

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