By: Stanley Martin, MD, Division Chief of Infectious Diseases at Geisinger

Stanley Martin, MD, Infectious Disease, GMC, director

While the COVID-19 vaccine brings hope, the pandemic isn’t over. Here’s why it’s important to keep masking before and even after you get the vaccine.

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine marks a huge milestone in the coronavirus pandemic.

For nearly a year, we’ve been taking preventive measures like masking, physical distancing and frequent handwashing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. And now, with the COVID-19vaccine, there’s an opportunity to even further reduce our risk of illness.

But does this mean those who get it are safe to stop masking? Not yet.

The vaccine may give people the impression that masking will no longer be necessary. But wearing a mask and continuing other preventive measures is still critical before, during and even after receiving the vaccine.

But, why do you still need to wear a mask (and take other precautions, too)?To gain control of the pandemic, we need to use all the tools in our toolbox.

These tools include getting the vaccine when it becomes available to you and continuing to take preventive measures to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19. Until we know more, these actions are the most effective way to protect ourselves from COVID-19.

Here are 4 reasons why preventive measures are still necessary: 

  1. Vaccines don’t provide immediate immunity.

The COVID-19 vaccines work by providing the genetic code for your cells to produce viral proteins. Once the proteins are produced, they trigger an immune response in your body so that you develop immunity against COVID-19.

Depending on which vaccine you receive, it could take several weeks to achieve immunity. And during the vaccination process, it’s possible for you to get (and spread) COVID-19.

  1. Experts don’t know how long the immunity from the vaccine will last.

While Phase 3 clinical trials verified the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, experts need more time to understand how long people will be protected by vaccination.

Factors such as how the vaccine was transported, stored or administered may affect the level of effectiveness. As the vaccine is rolled out over time, we’ll have a better idea of how long the vaccine immunity will last.

  1. Getting everyone vaccinated will take some time.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined who will be able to receive the vaccine in Pennsylvania.

Geisinger, like other healthcare organizations, is administering vaccines in accordance with these guidelines. But it will take some time to get enough people vaccinated to loosen preventive measures like masking and physical distancing.

  1. The herd immunity level for COVID-19 hasn’t been established.

“Herd immunity” is when a large amount of the population becomes immune to a disease or illness, typically by vaccination. That limits the ability of the illness to spread.

The threshold for herd immunity varies by disease. For example, 95% of the population must be vaccinated to limit the ability of measles to spread.

Right now, we don’t know the herd immunity level for COVID-19. Because of this, no one should stop wearing a mask and taking other preventive measures until experts have more data to make an informed decision.

We’ll get through this pandemic by working together, but everyone has to keep working together to put an end to this pandemic.

The COVID-19 vaccine can help us drastically reduce the risk of illness from COVID-19, but we can’t let up just yet. Continuing to wear a mask, avoiding small and large gatherings and practicing good hand hygiene will be important as we work to get all eligible people vaccinated.