This Is Why You'll Need a Mask Even After the Vaccine, Dr. Fauci Says

A vaccine won't make the virus disappear overnight, the health expert warns.

With the vaccine almost ready for distribution, Americans are getting antsy thinking about returning to some semblance of normalcy. The thought of dining indoors, returning to work, and hanging out in bars—and doing it all without a mask—sounds tantalizing, but experts say you shouldn't toss out your face coverings just yet. Echoing their warnings, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), says that you'll still need to wear a mask after you get the vaccine.

Although the vaccine will be integral to eradicating COVID, it shouldn't be seen as a miracle elixir that will wipe out the virus altogether right off the bat. On Dec. 10, Fauci told Chris Cuomo on CNN's Cuomo Prime Time that we should expect to be wearing masks for a while longer. To see when Fauci says you can ditch your mask, read on, and for more on the future of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci Just Gave a New Timeline for Returning to Normal Post-Vaccine.

What would need to happen to be able to throw out our masks?

closeup of hand holding medical mask while walking in park amid coronavirus pandemi

Fauci said in order to say goodbye to our masks, we'd need the "overwhelming majority of the country" to have COVID immunity either through vaccination or herd immunity. He warned that "there's still a lot of virus out there," which means we need to hold onto our masks even after getting vaccinated. And for more on where coronavirus is currently spreading, These States Are Locking Down Again Amid COVID.

You need to wear a mask to avoid infection even after getting the vaccine.

businesswoman with protective face mask using smart phone and looking through the window while commuting by bus.

The vaccine is a powerful tool in preventing the spread of COVID, but it's not perfect. Fauci said that people who get the vaccine need to remember that you "could be prevented from getting the clinical disease and still have the virus that is in your nasopharynx because you can get infected." That would mean you'd be able to pass the virus on to others.

While the vaccine will likely protect you from getting sick and experiencing intense side effects from COVID, Fauci wants people to remember that if you're walking around without a mask on, you could pick up the virus and potentially be a carrier. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The vaccine will prevent severe illness, but possibly not infection.

close up of doctor injecting needle into patient's arm

And you could still get sick yourself. Fauci said the vaccine is 94 to 95 percent able to prevent "clinically recognizable disease," so the chances of seeing any COVID symptoms once you're vaccinated are minimal. The vaccine is also "almost 100 percent [successful] in protecting you from severe disease," said Fauci. That means it's highly unlikely you would have a serious case of coronavirus, but you could be infected nonetheless. And for concerns about the vaccine, These Are the Only People Who Shouldn't Get the COVID Vaccine.

Beyond masks, you'll still have to take other COVID precautions after the vaccine.

older woman with face mask walking on sidewalk with another woman walking behind

The vaccine won't put an end to most COVID precautions for a while, Fauci says.

"Until you have virus that is so low in society, we as a nation need to continue to wear the mask, to keep the physical distance, to avoid crowds," he told Cuomo. "We're not through with this just because we're starting a vaccine program. Even though you, as an individual, might have gotten vaccinated, it is not over by any means. We still have a long way to go, and we've got to get as many people as possible vaccinated of all groups." And for more on slowing the spread of coronavirus, Dr. Fauci Says You Need to Do This One Thing to Stop COVID.

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