Project Bug Files
Vaccines & Masks
Narrative: The vaccine is the best measure to fight covid.
Even if you avoid watching TV, listening to the radio, or even going online, the simple truth is that you cannot escape the incessant narrative regarding the importance of getting vaccinated. Billboards, advertising on public transit, and other such mediums are constantly pushing for people to get their ‘jabs’, often phrasing it in such a way as to suggest that getting vaccinated is for the collective good. ‘Take one for the team’, ‘Make a difference’, and countless other phrases of similar nature create this belief that by getting vaccinated you will do your part to make society safer. But just how true is this notion, that getting vaccinated is the best defence, and one that is a selfless act of social responsibility?
The first question that needs to be asked is what exactly does the vaccine do? Intentionally or not, the common doctrine being spread is that the vaccine will help eliminate covid by establishing immunity. However, you only need to take two things into consideration to realise that this assertion is dangerously misleading. First, the flu shot, which is essentially an influenza vaccine, does not make people immune to the flu. Although it reduces the risk, even those who get the shot can still come down with the flu. So the idea that a vaccine is a cure is one that we already know to be false in our day-to-day lives. While some vaccines can be curative, such as the polio vaccine, many are merely preventative measures, designed to reduce risk and nothing more.
The second thing to consider, when determining the true function of the vaccine, is the official reports themselves. According to almost any official report, the vaccine can reduce the risk of contracting and spreading covid. ‘Can reduce the risk’ is about as vague as you can get. It’s about as definitive as suggesting that buying five lottery tickets instead of one ‘can increase your chances of winning’. Needless to say, this isn’t to say that the vaccine is as random or ineffective as a lottery ticket, rather it’s simply to point out that, even according to the experts themselves, it’s far from the magic potion many believe it to be. In fact, the more you read, the more you discover that the vaccine is intended to reduce the risk of moderate to severe symptoms in the event of contracting the virus. It’s simply one level of defence in a much bigger fight.
If the vaccine isn’t a sure thing when it comes to fighting and eliminating the bug, how effective are masks in reducing the spread of covid?
Narrative: Masks are ineffective against covid.
The mask. If there is one thing as polarising as the vaccine, it would have to be the dreaded mask. While some see the mask as an effective measure in the fight against covid, others see it as a hoax, or worse still, as a threat to their personal liberties. But rather than getting into a heated political debate regarding individual rights, let’s focus on the pertinent question. Does wearing a mask help protect you from getting covid?
Ironically enough, the answer is both yes and no. Truth be told, the mask you wear isn’t designed to keep you safe from others. Instead, it’s designed to keep others safe from you. In order to understand this, we must first unravel the mystery of what function masks actually serve. There are three types of masks commonly available; surgical, cloth, and N95. Out of the three, only the N95 is designed to filter the air that a person breathes in, keeping them safe from any airborne pathogens in their surroundings. The other two, surgical and cloth, do NOT provide significant air filtration. Instead, they filter bodily fluids, specifically from coughing, sneezing, and the like. The fact that neither surgical nor cloth masks filter air has been used to debunk their effectiveness. But just how true is this belief?
In order to answer this we have to dig a little deeper. The function of a mask is just half the story. The other half is the nature of how viruses are spread. While it is often suggested that viruses can spread through the air, the simple truth is that viruses live in fluids, not the air itself. This is why coughing and sneezing are seen as high-risk when it comes to spreading coughs, colds, and the flu. It’s not the air that’s contaminated, it’s the droplets released into the air from such actions. And that is where the effectiveness of surgical and cloth masks comes into play. Yes, these masks do not filter the air as such, but they do act as a fluid shield, capturing outgoing fluids from the wearer, as well as filtering incoming fluids from those in close proximity. As a result, cloth and surgical masks all but eliminate the spread of illness by protecting individuals from the spread of contaminated fluids.
If this basic argument isn’t compelling enough, consider the fact that the number of flu cases in the winter of 2020 was considerably lower than normal. Medical experts were unsurprised by this trend, given the fact that the vast majority of people were practising social distancing and wearing masks due to the pandemic. When you consider that the flu, aka influenza, is a highly transmissible virus, then it stands to reason that any measures which significantly reduce its spread will ultimately have the same impact on any other virus, covid included.
Given this basic insight, the fact that mandates have been focused on the vaccine and not masks is perplexing at best, and outrageous at worst. Furthermore, the notion that wearing masks is somehow self-serving, whereas getting vaccinated is an act of civil responsibility, is naive at best and totally misleading at worst. All the facts point to vaccines providing risk reduction for the individual and masks providing risk reduction for the collective whole. Additionally, the idea that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks makes NO sense, especially when you consider that they are perhaps the most likely to be asymptomatic while carrying the virus.
In the end, while masks can provide some level of protection for the wearer, the simple truth is that they are intended to protect those around the wearer. This means that wearing a mask is an act of social consciousness, while refusing to wear one is quite the opposite. And the idea that getting vaccinated protects others is like suggesting that wearing a seatbelt is for the good of other drivers, and not for your own protection. Putting aside any and all conspiracy theories as to why this basic, yet potentially life-saving information is not at the forefront of the common narrative, it is no less concerning and frustrating that so much misinformation is allowed to circulate unchallenged. The simple truth is that masks are more likely to achieve one thing that the vaccine can’t, namely a significant reduction in the spread of covid.
Food for Thought:
One more thing to consider is the ‘magic wand mindset’ behind vaccines, masks, and the like. An unfortunate trend that revealed itself is the expectation that science will provide a single solution that will restore normality. Perhaps that’s why the vaccine option was embraced so quickly, despite the fact that little-to-no data supported the effectiveness or even the safety behind the vaccines available. In a culture driven by instant results, such expectations should come as no surprise.
Unfortunately, this ‘one and done’ hope is proving more fantasy than reality. Now that enough time has elapsed to produce the data necessary to gain insight on the matter, we can clearly see that the path to normality lies in utilising multiple strategies. While masks may not eliminate covid altogether, it is evident that as the percentage of mask use increased, the spread of covid decreased. And yes, it can be argued that the efficacy of masks is affected by the specific strain of covid, with Omicron proving troublesome given the nature of its increased infectiousness. That said, if those testing positive, or even presenting symptoms, were to wear masks, there can be no question that it would make at least some difference when compared to taking no measures at all. Additionally, social distancing, while not a solution unto itself, can be effective when those infected are quarantined in a responsible manner, thereby reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
Even the vaccine can be put to good use, when implemented in a meaningful and responsible manner. Used to enhance immunity within those otherwise compromised, the vaccine could significantly reduce hospitalisation numbers, not to mention fatality figures, something everyone would agree is vitally important. In the end, it may well be that our best chance of returning to any semblance of normality will come not in one single leap, but rather in small steps that lead to the ultimate goal. And it’s about using the right options for the right reasons, rather than simply using what’s available in a haphazard way, or worse still, not at all. Now that we have the benefit of hindsight we can begin implementing the most important tool of all—common sense.