Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a Sep. 16 Senate hearing that using face masks is “more guaranteed” to protect against the coronavirus than getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Redfield exhorted Americans during the hearing to not dismiss the effectiveness of wearing a mask.
Redfield responded to questions on how the Trump administration responded to the pandemic during the Sep. 16 hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee. The inquiry touched on the subjects of testing, vaccine development and case counts. Dr. Redfield also stressed the importance of mask-wearing, as a potential vaccine being developed might not work for everyone with its 70 percent efficacy rate.
He added that in case the vaccine fails to build an immune response to the coronavirus, the face mask will still safeguard against future infection.
Assistant Secretary of Health Adm. Brett Giroir seconded Dr. Redfield’s explanation, telling lawmakers that wearing a mask or face covering “is one of the more important things we can do” to stop the spread of the coronavirus. People who are infected yet do not show symptoms could still be spreading the virus, Adm. Giroir added.
Both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) now suggest that people wear face masks covering both the mouth and nose in order to block respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs, sneezes or talks – especially when people cannot maintain the six-foot distance from others. (Related: Study shows mask-wearers more likely to disregard social distancing guidelines.)
Face masks vs. vaccines
According to a July 2020 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a COVID-19 vaccine should have at least 60 percent efficacy to extinguish the current pandemic, assuming that 100 percent of the population is vaccinated. Furthermore, a COVID-19 vaccine would have to be 75 percent effective if only 75 percent of the population gets vaccinated.
Editor’s note: Given the rushed research and skipped trials, any coronavirus vaccine is extremely unlikely to show efficacy beyond about 10 percent.
Some medical experts such as Dr. David Heymann, who led the WHO’s response to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, have expressed skepticism toward efforts to fast-track a vaccine. Speaking to The Guardian in May 2020, Heymann doubted if a vaccine can even produce an immune response that would protect against future infections.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) head Dr. Anthony Fauci said in August that scientists are hoping to create a vaccine that’s at least 75 percent effective – as there was a slim likelihood of creating a COVID-19 vaccine providing 98 percent protection or more.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said it would authorize a coronavirus vaccine if it is safe and at least 50 percent effective.
When questioned about the amount of vaccine doses ready, Redfield answered that there are limited quantities available and that those who needed vaccination the most – such as healthcare workers – will get the first doses. He gave an estimate of about “six to nine months” before the entire public gets vaccinated.
Redfield echoed the need for an effective vaccine before Americans could go back to their normal lives in a statement emailed to CNBC. However, he said that “the best defense we currently have … are wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds” given that there is no approved vaccine yet for COVID-19.
While the CDC and WHO suggest wearing masks, it should ideally be not mandatory. However, some U.S. states are making mask-wearing compulsory – with people being arrested for noncompliance.
The U.S. has the highest COVID-19 caseload as of writing with over 6.6 million cases, 196,804 deaths and 2.5 million recoveries.
Find out more information about how the U.S. and other countries are responding to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.