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Why you should continue wearing a mask and social distancing after getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Even though more people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine, pandemic precautions like face masks and social distancing are still essential to slow the spread of the virus.

The arrival of two COVID-19 vaccines late last year marked a turning point in the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we should stop taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Health officials recommend that all people – including those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine – continue to wear face masks, remain socially distant, wash their hands frequently, and stay home when feeling sick.

“Although we are excited about the beginning of the end of the pandemic with the vaccine rollout,  this doesn’t mean we can go back to our pre-pandemic behavior yet,” said Internist and Pediatrician Abraham Jacob, MD, MHA, who serves as M Health Fairview’s chief quality officer. “We are learning more every day. Until we get more data, we need to keep up these public health measures to protect our loved ones, people in our communities, and ourselves.”

Here are four reasons to continue practicing COVID-19 safety precautions after receiving the vaccine.

When will you be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and is it safe? M Health Fairview answers a handful of frequently asked questions about the vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine may not give you full protection right away.

Both of the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines require two doses to be as effective as shown in early studies. People receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will need a second dose 21 days after the first, while those who get the Moderna vaccine will need a booster 28 days later. It may take several weeks for your body to develop immunity after receiving both doses, so it’s important for you to continue wearing a mask and taking other safety steps.

If you are exposed to the coronavirus in between the two doses, or just after you get the second dose, your body may not have had enough time to develop its full defenses and you could still get sick. The vaccine is very effective at reducing the risk of getting sick, and wearing a mask lowers that risk even more.

“Effectiveness is not immediate, but with each passing day you get a stronger layer of protection,” Jacob said.

We don’t know if you can still spread the virus after getting vaccinated.

We know getting a COVID-19 vaccine reduces the chance that you will get sick. But even if you’re immune to the disease, you might still be able to carry the virus and spread it to others. Right now, scientists don’t know whether getting a vaccine is enough to stop or slow transmission – though research is underway to answer that question.

“Until we know more, we should assume there’s still a risk of spreading the virus and take precautions,” Jacob said.

Your immunity may decrease over time.

Because the vaccines are so new, we don’t know how long they will protect you against COVID-19.

The protection given by vaccines can decrease over time. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get certain booster shots – such as a tetanus and diphtheria booster every 10 years – to regularly renew your immunity.

It’s also possible that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 will mutate, or change, making a new vaccine necessary. Mutations to the influenza virus, for example, are part of the reason why we get new flu vaccines every year.

Many people have not yet received the vaccine.

Most people in Minnesota and across the nation have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine. It will be months before enough people have been vaccinated to establish herd immunity, which occurs when enough people are immune to a disease to make person-to-person spread unlikely. Until we reach that point, people who get the vaccine early still need to do everything they can to keep others safe.

“The main reason we wear masks is to protect others,” Jacob said. “Data now shows masks protect the wearer, too, but we really need to do it for our loved ones and the community.”