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How are vaccines and masks different when it comes to protecting against COVID-19?

This article was published on
June 1, 2021

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Masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns, and face shields provide protection by preventing the coronavirus from coming in physical contact with us and entering our bodies.  Vaccines, on the other hand, build our immune system to fight the virus should it somehow enter our bodies. With external and internal protections, we can improve our chances of being safe from the impact of coronavirus.

Masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns, and face shields provide protection by preventing the coronavirus from coming in physical contact with us and entering our bodies.  Vaccines, on the other hand, build our immune system to fight the virus should it somehow enter our bodies. With external and internal protections, we can improve our chances of being safe from the impact of coronavirus.

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What our experts say

The WHO, the U.S. CDC, and Ministries of Health around the world recommend that the people wear masks or face coverings when in public places. Masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns, and face shields protect people from coming into direct contact with the COVID-19 virus. The virus mostly spreads through the nose and mouth, and covering them can help reduce the chances of spreading the virus from one person to the other through coughs, sneezes, or via particles when talking loudly.

However, this is not sufficient to stop transmission. This virus is very very tiny and can still escape the physical protection of PPEs and enter your body. For this reason, vaccines are needed. The COVID-19 vaccines prepare our immune system to fight the virus, and greatly reduce our chances of falling sick. Research is underway to study how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are at preventing the spread of the virus. That is why we still need to wear masks in crowded places.

Masks and vaccines are two different mechanisms of protection, like having a security system outside the house, but also having vaults to secure our valuables. Both are important for safeguarding our bodies. By getting vaccinated, using masks, and socially distancing when in public, we greatly reduce chances for the virus to spread and cause harm, thereby breaking widespread transmission patterns.

As more and more people get protected against the virus, the virus may run out of ways to spread, and the pandemic can come to an end.

Context and background

Early on in the pandemic, the public was asked to wear masks and face coverings to protect themselves and others against the spread of COVID-19. As more people get vaccinated, there have been questions on whether masks or vaccines are more effective at protecting us. The reality is that they are fundamentally different ways of keeping us safe. They have different purposes. One is used to prevent the physical transmission of the virus altogether, and the other is used to prepare the body to prevent severe illness from it. 

Resources

  1. Evidence for Effectiveness of Masks (U.S. CDC)
  2. How well do face masks protect against coronavirus? (Mayo Clinic)
  3. An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19 (National Academy of Sciences - PNAS)
  4. Face masks: what the data say (Nature)
  5. Key Things to Know about COVID-19 Vaccines (U.S. CDC)
  6. Impact and effectiveness of mRNA BNT162b2 vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations, and deaths following a nationwide vaccination campaign in Israel: an observational study using national surveillance data (The Lancet)
  7. Effectiveness of the BNT162b2 Covid-19 Vaccine against the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 Variants (The New England Journal of Medicine)

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