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Can Wearing Face Masks Lead to Herd Immunity?

Scientists are theorizing the possibility of herd immunity and the relationship of wearing masks to generate an immune response.

In a previous blog, we talked about herd immunity and how it can be possible to end this Covid-19 pandemic.

A few weeks ago, CDC director Robert Redfield commented that “Face masks, these face masks, are the most important powerful public health tool we have." He further said, “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” His comments have sparked controversies about the importance of wearing masks not only to others but to the wearers as well.

Only a few months ago, we were told to wear masks because there had been researches in the past months that shedding from infected persons usually come from the mouths and nose. Wearing masks can then prevent an asymptomatic infected person to spread the disease.

Recent research studies show that masks are beneficial not only to others but to the people wearing them as well. Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California – San Francisco said “If we could all wore facial masks all the time - that we could get over this pandemic more quickly”. She further said that “Masking will reduce the amount of virus introduced into your system and will make you less likely to get sick”. She likened this to an influenza virus-A study that when introduced more to a person, that person gets more sickly and the less dose of it introduced, the less sickly the person is. However, this can’t be done to a person because of the severity of the disease.

However, a similar study was made in an experiment among hamsters in Hongkong where a simulated wearing of masks was experimented between two cages. The scientists found out that wearing masks can significantly reduce the transmission of the deadly virus.

Another finding was found out between two cruise ships that had to go into quarantine due to infected passengers. One of the ships, Expedition Cruise, immediately distributed masks while Diamond Princess’s distribution of masks came much later. Expedition Cruise came out with the result of 81% asymptomatic passengers while that of Diamond Princess is only 18%.

Scientists say that universal masking could become a form of “variolation” that would generate immunity and thereby slow the spread of the virus while waiting for a safe vaccine which takes years to study. Variolation was the method of inoculation first used to immunize individuals against smallpox with material taken from a patient or a recently variolated individual, in the hope that a mild, but protective, infection would result. The facial masks are theorized to work to reduce the inoculum that can be introduced into the body, and therefore reduce the impact of the disease.

The possibility of variolation resulting in immunity is still under study. There is no known large number of cases of reinfection, however, so this may not be far from reality.