Mask Wearing, Physical Distancing Still Important During Vaccine Distribution

Maintaining non-pharmaceutical interventions were seen to reduce the spread of infections during computer modeling.

A recent study conducted by investigators from the department of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina has shown that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as mask wearing and physical distancing, are still important during the rollout of vaccines and can help to prevent spikes of COVID-19.

Results from the study were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

"As soon as you start relaxing mask wearing and physical distancing with any percent of the population vaccinated, you see an increase in cases," Mehul Patel, a lead author on the study said. "Until we reach around 50% of the population vaccinated, there is more potential to have disease spread if we remove NPIs."

For the study, the investigators used a computer simulation model to analyze multiple factors and how they would play a role in decreasing the spread of COVID-19. The factors included vaccine effectiveness, the percent of the population that is vaccinated, and adherence to NPIs over a set period of time.

Findings from the study showed that all of the scenarios in the study that included the use of NPIs had lower risks of infections when compared to scenarios without NPIs.

For example, in the case of lower vaccine efficacy, maintaining the use of NPIs reduced infections by a mean of 15% in comparison to not using them.

Additionally, similar patterns were observed for the risk of mortality and hospitalizations when NPIs were maintained.

“We found that sufficient population protection to slow new infections was achieved through vaccination during 6 months and NPIs, although removing NPIs during vaccination distribution was associated with additional hospitalizations and deaths,” the authors wrote. “Our findings suggest that coordinated efforts are needed to maximize vaccine coverage and adherence to NPIs to reduce COVID-19 burden to a level that could safely allow a resumption of many economic, educational, and social activities.”