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How Long After the Vaccine Are We Still Going to Be Wearing Masks?

It’s a bit early for that kind of question, bud

You might be thinking that with a vaccine seemingly on the way, it won’t be long now until life feels normal again. At very least, we’re gonna be able to see everyone’s maskless faces soon, right? 

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh, probably not.

The problem with answering the question of how long we’ll be wearing masks after getting vaccinated is that we still have no freaking idea when we’ll all be getting vaccinated. Unless you’re a health-care worker, live in a nursing home or have serious COVID-related health risks, the general answer to when you’ll get a dose of that sweet, sweet mRNA concoction is just “eventually.” 

According to the New York Times’ vaccine timeline estimator, a healthy 24-year-old like myself has around 144.1 million people in front of them in the metaphorical line. I have absolutely no parameters in my brain to help me accurately conceive of what that even translates to, time-wise. 

A potentially bigger issue, though, is that people may still be at risk of being infected or be infectious themselves in the weeks following vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control states that the COVID-19 vaccine will not give you COVID-19 itself, though you may still experience symptoms as the vaccine is designed to trigger an immune response in order to produce antibodies. Since you’re not actually sick with COVID-19 as we know it, you can’t spread it from the vaccine. That said, it may take time before your body is adequately equipped to fight off the virus after you’re vaccinated. If you become exposed to the virus too soon, you might become sick with COVID-19. In that case, you’d be capable of spreading it, as well. 

In the event that we were all getting vaccinated on the exact same day, it would only be a matter of weeks before things could truly be “back to normal.” Of course, that’s not the case, which makes things wildly more complicated. Experts believe that collective mask-wearing should only cease when the majority of the population is vaccinated. That means there will likely be a period of limbo where some of us are vaccinated, and others are not. The polite thing to do, then, will be to continue wearing masks in public. Since we won’t know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, coupled with the fact that vaccines aren’t perfectly effective, we’ll likely still want to keep up mask-wearing and social distancing. 

Currently, our clearest estimate from Anthony Fauci is that we’ll likely still be wearing masks until at least the end of 2021. Maybe that means we’ll be more comfortable taking masks off around family, but still wearing them to grocery stores. Maybe that means we’ll continue wearing them as often as we’re supposed to now. Maybe some of us have become so accustomed to wearing masks, we’ll keep on wearing them even after we know for sure that it’s safe to take them off. 

As for the latter scenario, people’s personal comfort levels are going to dictate when they stop wearing masks. Some assholes are already done wearing masks. There’s probably a good chance that a second tier of assholes will quickly follow suit when vaccines become more available, even if it’s not medically recommended. 

In any case, call it a year before you get to take the masks off, assuming it’ll be a year before everyone gets vaccinated. That’s not too bad. Keep the faith!