Keep wearing a mask even after getting your COVID-19 vaccine

Jan. 20, 2021
Older man in a grocery store wearing his mask. Wear a mask even after COVID-19 vaccine.
If you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccine, that’s great. But, health experts say it’s critical for people to keep wearing masks even after getting COVID-19 vaccines until millions more people get theirs. Photo: Getty Images.

If you are among the first people in the U.S. to receive your vaccine to prevent COVID-19, lucky you!

But, now what?

How can you stay safe and protect loved ones after getting your COVID-19 vaccine? What are the dos and don’ts after getting your vaccine?

Can you gather up all your masks and pitch them in the trash? Can you revert to pre-pandemic norms and celebrate big milestones like birthdays and weddings in person with big groups of friends or hop on a plane for a long-awaited trip?

Unfortunately, no.

“We are not done. The shot is not your ticket to freedom. You’ve got to keep wearing your mask,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth and one of the top infectious disease experts in Colorado.

“Once the infection rates go down significantly and transmission is low, then maybe we can do things differently. But, even China is having outbreaks again. The worldwide effects of the pandemic are still ongoing.”

COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly safe and effective. And, we are extraordinarily fortunate to have vaccines so quickly, less than a year after we all first heard of the dreaded COVID-19, said Barron, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Headshot of Dr. Michelle Barron, who advises people to keep wearing masks even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Michelle Barron says the COVID-19 vaccines work very well. But, people need to keep taking precautions and wearing masks even after getting COVID-19 vaccines until millions of others can get their vaccines. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

But, until millions more people get their vaccines, those who have received either one or two doses of COVID-19 vaccines must act pretty much as we all have for nearly a year. That means we all need to keep wearing masks, washing our hands frequently, staying at least six feet away from people outside of our homes, avoiding indoor gatherings, and for now, connecting through online platforms.

Barron offers advice on how to move forward even if you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccine and how to keep others who are waiting for their vaccines safe in the meantime.

Do we need to continue to wear masks even after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. It’s critical to keep wearing masks. Barron said the virus that causes COVID-19 is still spreading widely throughout Colorado and the U.S. Until many more people get the vaccines and we can dramatically cut the spread of the virus, we need to keep wearing masks even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Once I get the vaccine, am I protected from COVID-19?

Once you get both doses of your COVID-19 vaccine, you will have excellent protection from the illness. The vaccines which have been approved so far have been shown to be 95% effective, which is excellent.

But, it is possible for a person who has received a vaccine to get COVID-19. If they do, the case is likely to be much less severe and less deadly than it would be for a person who has not received a vaccine. But, precautions are still warranted.

Mass vaccination clinic at Coors Field

UCHealth is expecting to vaccinate an estimated 10,000 people on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 at a drive-thru vaccination clinic at Coors Field in Denver. Only individuals who have an appointment will receive a vaccination.

UCHealth is partnering with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the city of Denver and the Colorado Rockies for this weekend’s mass vaccination.

About 1,000 people age 70 and older received a vaccine during a dry run of the clinic on Jan. 24 at Coors Field. Vaccine was given to people as they sat in their cars. After receiving a vaccination, individuals are asked to wait 15 being leaving the clinic. Only those who had an appointment were vaccinated. Shots were not given to people who showed up but did not have an appointment.

For more information about how to receive a vaccination at UCHealth, please click here.

 

“Even if you have both doses, it doesn’t mean that you are truly immune. You could still get COVID-19. We are hoping that you’ll get a milder form if you get the vaccines,” Barron said.

Scientists continue to study the ongoing immunity of people who have received vaccines.

I’ve heard some people who get vaccinated can still get an asymptomatic case of COVID-19. Is that true?

Yes, it’s possible for a person who has been vaccinated to test positive for COVID-19. That’s why it’s so important to keep wearing a mask, washing hands and staying apart from people outside of your home, Barron said.

Could a person who has been vaccinated spread COVID-19?

Researchers are still studying immunity among those who get vaccines. But, since it’s possible to get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, it’s also possible for people who have received vaccines to carry the virus that causes COVID-19 and to unknowingly spread it to others.

“You could be a carrier and not be sick at all and you could still be spreading the virus,” Barron said. “The vaccine can prevent you from getting sick, but it doesn’t prevent you from being infectious.”

I’m an older person who got my vaccine. Can I get together with my children and grandchildren in person now?

No. While many older adults are understandably weary from the isolation the pandemic has required, and are eager to break free from restrictions, Barron urges them not to gather in-person with their children, grandchildren and friends.

No older person would knowingly want to infect their loved ones. And, since it’s possible to carry the infection even after you receive your vaccine, it is possible to infect others.

Barron reminds people today about the bravery and fortitude that British people showed during World War II when Londoners endured nightly bombings. To encourage people to stay strong as they fought the Nazis, British leaders created posters in 1939 that said, “Keep calm and carry on.”

That advice remains apt today, Barron said.

For those who have been fortunate to receive vaccines, Barron might update the British saying: “Keep calm and keep your mask on.”

How should older people behave if they’ve had their vaccines?

Nurse give a woman a vaccine. People should continue to wear their masks after their COVID-19 vaccine to keep others safe.
People who have received their vaccines have been thrilled, but it’s still important that they wear their masks to help protect others. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

For now, people need to keep taking precautions.

“I would still recommend that you limit your gatherings to people you normally see, have your groceries delivered. It you can get outside for some fresh air, that’s fine. But keep your distance from others,” Barron said.

“Truly, nothing has changed. If people are coming to visit, they should stay outside, keep masks on and keep distance.”

Older people could infect others. But, visitors could get them sick too.

“They risk infecting you. And, while you may not get as sick as you might have without a vaccine, you still could get very sick and we don’t want that.”

When will life return to normal?

Of course, that’s the $64,000 question. No one knows exactly when we’ll be able to stop wearing masks and once again be able to behave normally again, Barron said.

“Optimistically, I’m hoping by the fall,” Barron said.

But, no one knows for sure.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been mutating. And, the virus could continue to evolve. Fortunately, for now, vaccines are proving to be effective on new coronavirus mutations, Barron said. But now one knows exactly how the virus will behave.

“It could mutate. It could die out.”

“If we look at the 1918 flu, it took almost two years before it finally died out. We’ve just got to hold the course,” Barron said.

Her husband runs marathons, and Barron said enduring the pandemic is like making it to the end of a marathon.

“We may only be at mile 15 and these last 11 miles are going to be painful. Yes, you can get to the finish line. But that depends on how well we do now. Do you crash and burn or do you continue at your pace?” Barron said.

She’s encouraging people to hang in there and be patient.

“Time will tell,” Barron said.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.

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