A Medpage Today news report explores whether or not a mask is an effective alternative to immunization.
As healthcare organizations rush to comply with new federal immunization reporting requirements for their workers, many infection control experts are questioning the mask option, saying it’s an inefficient, ineffective, and dehumanizing alternative to immunization, one that gives workers an excuse not to get their annual flu vaccines.
Mask mandates are “a silly half-way measure that really doesn’t serve any useful purpose other than to identify a person as a healthcare worker who is choosing not to get vaccinated — selfishly,” Offit said. “You might as well wear a scarlet letter for all the good it does.”
Why are masks ineffective? For starters, they’re only 60% effective in blocking viral particles, about the same efficacy rate as the vaccine in a good year. But the real problem is the inconsistency in both use and fitting of the mask to the face.
“Sometimes healthcare workers wear the masks below their chin or below their nose. After awhile it gets wet and therefore permeable,” Offit said. “It’s not tight fitting so you can still breathe in and out along the side, and small droplets can spread.”
Around the country, however, what to do with the unvaccinated healthcare worker remains controversial. Organizations with mask mandates — from community clinics to skilled nursing and long-term care facilities and hospitals — are realizing that enforcing mask wearing for the unimmunized is impossible without embarrassing colleagues and disrupting routines.