Even after the vaccine, we’re still advised to wear a mask

Even with the arrival of a vaccine that’s expected to be 95 per cent effective and safe, experts warn that it will still take some time before we can stop wearing a mask. They say we will see an end to the pandemic but, it’s vitally important to get the vaccine when it’s your turn.

Now that the vaccine is finally being distributed in Canada, and healthcare workers are being immunized, this seems to be a time for a bit of a break and a sigh of relief—certainly a cause for optimism in what has otherwise been a fairly bleak period.

But doctors are cautioning us that although the Pfizer vaccine seems to be effective at preventing people from getting sick enough to have symptoms, we still don’t know if it prevents someone from carrying the virus and spreading it to others. That’s why experts are warning us that we can’t stop wearing masks anytime soon. 

With the Pfizer vaccine it seems that it’s possible for some people to be asymptomatic carriers. In other words, although they may not have any symptoms, the virus could be in their nasal passageway. That puts other people at risk when this person speaks, breathes and sneezes because they are still able to transmit it to others.

The vaccine protects people from becoming ill and being hospitalized. But it’s possible to still carry the virus and be contagious to others. That’s why all vaccine recipients should still be wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.

According to Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Tam, “Nobody actually knows the level of vaccine coverage to achieve community immunity or herd immunity. We have an assumption that you will probably need 60 to 70 per cent of people to be vaccinated. But we don’t know that for sure … that’s modelling. Lots of these calculations are being done but bottom line is that we actually don’t know.” 

To put it bluntly, Tam is saying that 60 to 70 percent of the population must already be vaccinated before we reach the point where enough people have immune protection from the virus, so it won’t spread any more.

This means roughly 28 million Canadians must receive the vaccine before we have a prospect of community immunity. Of course, it will take time to manufacture all the vaccines—some like the Pfizer are two-dose vaccines—so you will need double the number of doses. Also, we need to add in the time it takes to distribute the vaccine and administer it. 

If all goes well, the best estimates are that it will be late summer or early fall for most Canadians to receive the vaccine. In mid-December 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed hope that he would see the “majority” of Canadians vaccinated by September of this year. If that happens, it’s possible that we could then be able to see one another without masks—but definitely not before.