The claim: You don’t have to wear a mask after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
More than 130 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, prompting some to question whether it’s time to relax rules meant to slow the spread of the virus.
One of those measures is the use of masks to prevent infected people from passing the virus on to someone who isn’t carrying it.
Public health officials preaching continued vigilance around those measures have drawn the ire of conservative media pundits, politicians and others who say it’s time to relax the restrictions.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, both took aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci over the restrictions this month. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has defended continued use of masks and social distancing.
Carlson questioned on air why Fauci said masks were still needed for vaccinated people. Jordan’s viral, terse exchange with Fauci came during a congressional committee hearing.
Many on social media have been similarly dubious of the need for continued mask wearing.
A meme posted April 18 on Instagram claimed, “You don’t have to wear a mask after you’re vaccinated.” It shows a character from the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon, labeled “Health ‘experts,’” cowering in fear when confronted with the information.
The account that posted the claim responded to a request for comment with links to two studies, neither of which concludes that masks are not needed after being vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people continue to wear a mask in some settings even after they’ve been fully vaccinated.
In guidance updated April 2, CDC recommended continued mask use in public, when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one other household, and when visiting an unvaccinated person in higher-risk categories, or someone who lives with a person in higher-risk categories.
Masks are not needed when gathering indoors with others who are fully vaccinated or when visiting indoors with only one household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness, according to the CDC.
An individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer two-shot regimen, or two weeks after getting the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the CDC said.
Why do we still need to wear masks?
The reason for continued use of masks for vaccinated people is twofold: the potential for carrying the virus without symptoms and passing it on to others who are not vaccinated, and the risk of spreading variants the current vaccines are not as effective against, Fauci has said.
While vaccines have shown to be effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and preventing serious illness from the virus, researchers are still gathering data about whether someone who has been vaccinated can carry the disease without symptoms.
That means a vaccinated person could unknowingly infect others.
“What happens is that you might get infected and get absolutely no symptoms, not know you’re infected, and then inadvertently go into a situation with vulnerable people,” Fauci said April 18 on Meet the Press. “And if you don’t have a mask, you might inadvertently infect them. There’s a small risk of that, but it’s there.”
Fauci also pointed out the presence of COVID-19 variants. Vaccines have proven effective against the dominant variant in the United States, but others could spread without mitigating factors.
Fauci acknowledged in the interview with Chuck Todd that recommendations for vaccinated people to wear masks in some settings could change as more information becomes available.
More: Comparing the COVID-19 vaccines
While controlled clinical trials have shown efficacy of 65% to 95% against symptomatic COVID-19 and at least 89% efficacy against hospitalization from the virus, data on asymptomatic infection after receiving the vaccine is still preliminary.
The CDC says there is a “growing body of evidence” that suggests reductions in asymptomatic infection for vaccinated people. But experts told Cleveland.com that precautions are still needed until the majority of adults are vaccinated.
“When those data become clear, the CDC being a science-based organization, will use that scientific data to say, ‘Now a vaccinated person can actually walk around without a mask,’” Fauci said during an April 15 congressional hearing.
Mask mandates still in place
The most obvious place this claim falls short is the mask mandates still in place around the country. Most of those don’t make exceptions for people who have been vaccinated.
Some states have made high-profile decisions to end mask mandates and other restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus, but mask mandates remain in place in most U.S. states and territories. Thirty-one states and territories have mask mandates in place as of April 19, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Fact check: CDC study links mask mandates to slowing COVID-19 infections and deaths
A federal mask mandate is also in place for on-duty federal workers and contractors and for those in federal buildings or on federal lands. They also must be worn at airports, on planes and while using public transportation.
Our rating: False
The claim that you don’t have to wear a mask after being vaccinated is FALSE, based on our research. The CDC recommends vaccinated people continue to wear masks in some cases, including in public and when gathering with unvaccinated people at high risk for severe illness. The majority of U.S. states and territories still have mask mandates that include vaccinated people, and federal orders require masks on federal property and while traveling.
Our fact-check sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed April 20, COVID Data Tracker – Vaccines
FactCheck.org, April 17, “Tucker Carlson Misleads on COVID-19 Vaccines, Masks”
USA TODAY, April 15, “Maxine Waters tells Jim Jordan ‘shut your mouth’ during congressional hearing with Fauci”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2, “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2, “Science Brief: Background Rationale and Evidence for Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People”
Twitter, April 18, Meet the Press appearance by Dr. Anthony Fauci
Cleveland.com, April 6, “Did a CDC study say vaccinated people can stop wearing masks? Not yet, health experts say”
YouTube, April 15, “Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis April 15 hearing”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed April 20, COVID Data Tracker – Variants
The New York Times, April 15, “Can the Covid Vaccine Protect Me Against Virus Variants?”
U.S. News & World Report, April 19, “These States Have COVID-19 Mask Mandates”
The White House, Jan. 20, Executive Order requiring masks on federal property
The White House, Jan. 21, Executive Order requiring masks during travel
USA TODAY, March 3, “Five states are rolling back mask mandates. More could be on the way. Here’s what it could mean for all of us.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: CDC recommends masks in most cases even after vaccine