The approved COVID-19 vaccinations may help protect people from getting the coronavirus and also cut the risk of transmission considerably, but those who have been fully inoculated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus are still encouraged to wear masks when in public.

While recent reports have found that the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are 90% effective against COVID infection, including asymptomatic infection, which suggests that it also cuts the ability of transmission, the CDC guidelines still maintain that proper mask use is practiced until otherwise stated, pending more research about transmission and the current variants, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351.

“Because vaccinations do dramatically reduce transmission, eventually the CDC will issue new (masking) recommendations for vaccinated individuals,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine told USA Today. “But it won’t happen until the summer at the earliest, and all this depends on getting the B.1.1.7 variant under control and expanding vaccination coverage.”

Still, the CDC recommends proper mask-wearing and usage because while the vaccines seem to work well in the real world and information is promising, scientists want to see how the vaccines actually work against the variants containing the E484K gene, because they are believed to reduce vaccine effectiveness.

That gene can be found in the B.1.351 variant, the P.1 variant and the b.1.526 variants. These variants were first identified in South Africa, Brazil and New York.

As such, until cases are lower, and more research has revealed the effectiveness of vaccines against the variants, mask-wearing is still a must, Michael Mina, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said.

“We’ve gone through hell to get to where we are today and the last thing we want to do is keep going through hell,” he said. “Wearing masks is still pretty simple...unless you are in a small space with everyone being vaccinated, I would say err on the side of caution for a little bit longer.”

While the news that mask use is still important may wear on those who are feeling a bit weary from the pandemic still, there has been some promising news in light of vaccine effectiveness.

The CDC has changed guidance on travel for those who are fully vaccinated, stating that travelers do not need to get tested for COVID-19 either before or after traveling nor do they need to self-quarantine after traveling. Those traveling to international destinations will also no longer need to produce a negative COVID test unless the country they are heading to requires it.

However, upon return to the U.S., a negative COVID test is still required.

With ramped up production, BioNTech aims to churn out 2.5 billion doses of its vaccine this year With ramped up production, BioNTech aims to churn out 2.5 billion doses of its vaccine this year Photo: AFP / JOEL SAGET