Vaccine success makes it possible to start thinking about removing masks

European agency against infectious diseases says there is no need for protection between the vaccinated and those not at risk

3 min
People wearing masks walking around Barcelona

BarcelonaThe protection that the two doses of the vaccine give citizens is "effective", as proven by the great vaccination campaign being carried out all over the world. Therefore, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has published a report which, for the first time, proposes to start dispensing with masks and physical distance in some specific cases. The first scenario in which Europeans could again show their faces is in encounters between people who have already received two doses of the vaccine (or a single dose in the case of Janssen). They could also dispense with the mask between fully vaccinated people and others who are not part of risk groups, that is, young and middle-aged people who do not have health problems that can be complicated by covid-19. It is considered that a person is no longer middle-aged when he or she is over the age of 60 or 65.

"It seems that the masks are here to stay, but they are not. The measures are very important when there are no alternatives but as there are vaccines, non-pharmacological measures need not be so restrictive," explains Josep Maria Jansà, director of the epidemiological response area of the EDCD, to ARA.

This suppression of distance and mask wearing could also be applied between vaccinated people and family bubbles that have not received protection but are not at risk. The conclusions are based on experience over the past five months from vaccination in different states and no longer on evidence from the pharmaceutical companies themselves. The report is a guide to de-escalation of this prevention agency created by the European Union and any state in the Union can use it to begin to relax obligations on wearing masks.

The cases authorised by the EDCD are:

  1. When a person (or a group) having received both doses interacts with other people who are also fully vaccinated, regardless of age.
  2. When a vaccinated person interacts with an unvaccinated but young or middle-aged person (or bubble).
  3. When a young or middle-aged unvaccinated person (or bubble) interacts with other vaccinated people.

In public spaces and large gatherings, this relaxation, however, should not be allowed, according to the report. Moreover, according to Jansà: "The conclusions are based on the available evidence but have a margin of error. If some of these people would like to continue using a mask, that's fine". Even so, "it is time to, little by little, begin to relax restrictions," argues Jansà.

Increase vaccination

The study highlights that the European average of people over 80 who have received only one dose of the vaccine is 70%, while those who already have two doses represent 47%. In Catalonia, the percentage of over-80s with one dose is 89% (+19) and with two doses it is 40% (-7). As for European health workers, 65% have received the first dose (84% in Catalonia) and 50% have received both doses (78% in Catalonia).

This European agency warns that a "rapid and effective deployment" of vaccination is needed to allow "a stronger relaxation of the measures" for those who have been vaccinated. "We are confident that the increase in vaccination coverage will have a positive and direct impact on the return to normal life," said Andrea Ammon, director of the ECDC, in statements reported by ACN. Faced with global pessimism due to the pandemic, Jansà reminded us that "epidemics start, go up and down, but then they end" and predicted: "By the end of this year we will be living practically normally".

Travel restrictions

In the report, the agency backs Member States exempting vaccinated people who want to travel from testing or quarantine. "Public health authorities may consider exempting fully vaccinated persons from repeated testing in work settings and other places." In Spain, the secretary general of Digital Health, Alfredo Gonzalez, already advanced a week ago that the will is to "facilitate the arrival of travellers as much as possible". This means travellers will not be expected to quarantine or take PCRs if they have suffered the disease or have been vaccinated. Since the debate was opened in the EU, the countries that most need tourism (such as Spain, Italy and Greece) have opted for maximum flexibility in the restrictions on travellers.

The report also refers to schools, since there are many European countries where they have been closed, even after the first wave. In this area, it confirms that the risk can be considered "very low" among students and teachers, while among teachers and other school professionals "the risk may increase".