Here we go again. You might think that with more and more Americans getting vaccinated, and the pandemic’s effect on daily life shrinking by the day, that the tiresome, often science-free public debates and fights about wearing masks were behind us. But you would be wrong:
Los Angeles County public health authorities are urging unvaccinated and vaccinated people alike to don masks again inside restaurants, stores and other public indoor spaces because of the growing threat posed by the more contagious delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
The high-profile move by the county of 10 million marks an abrupt shift in tone after states and localities have dropped most mask mandates and social distancing requirements in recent weeks.
If, God forbid, there was a new variant that our existing vaccines proved helpless against, then reinstating mask-wearing for vaccinated people would make sense. But that’s not the case. So far, the vaccines are working against the Delta variant.
Now for some good news. If you’re vaccinated, you’re largely protected. Scientists in the UK studied the relative effectiveness of two-shot vaccines such as those of Pfizer and Moderna (Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine was first approved in late May in the United Kingdom) versus the Alpha and Delta variants. They found the vaccines to be 80 percent effective in stopping symptomatic disease from the Delta variant – that’s compared to 88 percent effectiveness of the vaccines against the Alpha variant. Vaccines stopped hospitalization for both Alpha and Delta variants more than 90 percent of the time.
For what it is worth, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on the Today show that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks, and that they are “really quite protected from the variants that we have circulating here in the United States” – including the Delta variant.
Remember, the vaccines aren’t designed to prevent any level of infection at all. They’re designed to prevent an infection making you significantly sick and require hospitalization — along with preventing death. If vaccination reduces a COVID-19 infection to a routine minor respiratory infection, life can go on and there’s no need to go back to all of the sweeping precautions taken in the early months of 2020.