[COLUMN] Is unmasking safe?

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s announcement last week: “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. The only exception to the rule is in certain crowded indoor spaces, such as buses, and planes, and in congregate settings, such as hospitals, homeless shelters and jails, where CDC still recommends people mask up.”

Are the vaccines 100 percent effective?

None of the vaccines are 100 percent effective. Pfizer-BioNT and Moderna vaccines are 95 percent and 92 percent effective, respectively. Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine is about 64 percent effective. So, fully vaccinated individuals, with the Pfizer-BioNT are theoretically still at 5 percent risk, those with Moderna about 8 percent risk, and J&J, about 36 percent risk.

This risk became evident when the CDC reported a few weeks ago the 5,800 fully vaccinated individuals who still got infected with COVID-19, killing 74 of them. After vaccination, did they put their guard down and become careless, with no mask and no distancing, and got the virus from unvaccinated virus carrier individuals? If we are not careful as a society, those numbers will go up.

Are masks worn to protect others?

Basically, yes, masks are worn to protect the people around, especially if the one wearing the mask is positive for, or infected with, COVID-19. If the wearer is negative for infection, or already had been fully vaccinated, there is still a small chance that he/she could get the virus from unvaccinated people not wearing masks. This is the fallacy of the new CDC advisory: Vaccinated people are allowed to unmask and not do distancing even in the presence of persons of unknown status.

Evidence-based data suggest masks protect the people around the wearer more than the ones wearing the masks themselves (even if fully vaccinated). This means that the latest CDC declaration that fully vaccinated people may give up masking and distancing in public, exposing vaccinated people as targets under the mercy of those who refuse vaccinations and who are most likely carriers and transmitters of the virus, is dangerous.

Can fully vaccinated people still get COVID-19?

As stated above, the CDC reported 5,800 fully vaccinated persons who still got infected with COVID-19, 74 of them dying. It is clear that fully vaccinated individuals (and those who previously had COVID-19) could still get infected from unvaccinated persons. The mandate that unvaccinated people must wear mask and do distancing in public places, including business establishments, must continue to protect the vaccinated ones and other unvaccinated individuals.

Should unvaccinated persons wear a mask?

Yes. In fairness to those who are vaccinated, like our parents and grandparents, family and friends, and the public, those who are unvaccinated and those who refuse to receive the vaccines, should wear a mask and do distancing until herd immunity is achieved in the U.S. They are a threat to those who have been vaccinated. Let us protect those who wanted to protect their health and their life and braved getting the shots. So far, only about 37 percent of Americans have been vaccinated, with 63 percent (roughly 210 million out of 333 million population) still unvaccinated, unprotected, and at grave risk. Billions have been vaccinated worldwide, proving the vaccines are effective and safe. Deaths from the vaccines are rare. Deaths from COVID-19 are staggering, more than 3.5 million so far. A simple math and common sense.

How many are refusing the vaccines?

It has been reported that more than 30 percent of Americans are refusing to get the vaccines. This translates to about 93 million future unvaccinated people. These are the people who would carry the virus for years and enable it to mutate to more virulent strains and potentially cause another (possibly worse) pandemic in the future.

Historically, measles was irradicated in the United States in 2000, and the resurgence in 2018 was caused by a single person, who brought back the virus from his travel abroad.

The typhoid epidemic in Long Island Oyster Bay, New York in the 1900s was caused by one woman, a cook named Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary), who refused quarantine, and spread the infection around. Imagine what the potential danger of 93 million unvaccinated (probable virus carriers) roaming around the U.S. could do! They are not only risking their lives and those of their children… they are irresponsibly preventing the total elimination of the SARS-CoV2 virus of COVID-19 from the surface of the earth. They will remain as the reservoir of the virus, enabling it to mutate to more virulent strains and potentially more deadly variants.

What situation is safe without masking?

For vaccinated individuals, the only safe situation is for them to be among fellow vaccinated people. But when you allow unvaccinated people (with no mask and not doing distancing) to join a crowd of vaccinated ones (who are masked or not), those who had the vaccines could still get infected by the unvaccinated persons unknowingly carrying the virus.

Will the honor system work?

Instead of requiring vaccination I.D cards, some sectors are suggesting the use of the honor system as to who should wear a mask or not, since the CDC has declared no more mask for the vaccinated ones and the unvaccinated are still mandated to wear a mask. If people are 100 percent honest, it might work. But we are not a perfect society, so some who did not get the shot will still not wear a mask and not do social distancing, victimizing everyone, including vaccinated individuals. One person who is a virus carrier is enough to start a resurgence or an epidemic or a pandemic.

Is the new CDC advisory safe for vaccinated people?

No. The new CDC advisory is confusing the public, and not safe, giving a false sense of security for vaccinated people to unmask and not do distancing, to live “normally.” If all people in a crowd are all vaccinated, they are all safe. But when unvaccinated persons are in the crowd, they can infect those vaccinated. Those unvaccinated ones should be mandated to stay masked and do distancing until herd immunity is achieved to protect all the rest of America.

As a cardiac surgeon closely monitoring the rapidly evolving clinical data about SARS-CoV2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year now, I strongly feel the CDC should clarify that vaccinated persons should still mask-up and do social distancing when among unvaccinated individuals. Science and common sense are not mutually exclusive.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.
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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, a Health Public Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Visit our websites: philipSchua.com and FUN8888.com; Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com.

Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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