Dear Editor:

Colorado’s resurgence of COVID-19 cases despite high vaccination rates seems to defy accepted dogma about the effectiveness of vaccines at controlling the pandemic. Current thinking is that once a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, a so-called “herd immunity” takes effect, resulting in a lower, manageable number of new cases. The following observations seem to suggest that this simplistic view may be flawed.

Here are the facts we have collected so far. First, a virus has no way to differentiate between someone who is vaccinated and someone who is not. It is out there, in the air, and will settle in the nose, mouth and throat of any person it encounters. 

Second, we know that individuals may carry the virus without showing symptoms. Third, we know that even vaccinated people can be sources of transmission, carriers without symptoms. And fourth, we know that COVID-19 is an airborne  virus that is spread between individuals on virtually any sized droplets of moisture exhaled during breathing. Coughing, sneezing, singing and shouting greatly increase the rate of propagation.

We also know from statistics collected over two years from around the world that countries where strict mask mandates were enforced have had the lowest rates of COVID-19 illness. A few of these prematurely lifted the mandates and saw a subsequent increase in cases and deaths. This was true before vaccines were available and has also proven true after widespread vaccination. 

Colorado fits squarely into that picture. High initial vaccination rates led to relaxed attention to masking and social distancing, with the resulting resurgence in cases, hospitalizations and deaths we are experiencing now.

Since vaccination has no logical relationship with whether someone is a carrier, one unvaccinated individual in a room of 50 vaccinated persons could still get infected and become ill. To the extent that masks were being worn in that same setting, that risk would be lessened. More so if he or she were also wearing a mask.

I’m not suggesting that vaccinations are not important. A vaccination reduces your risk of requiring hospitalization or of dying from COVID-19. It reduces the likelihood of hospitals being so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases that they must cancel or postpone other services and surgeries. Vaccination reduces the risk of your family and loved ones having to care for you should you get ill or, worse, facing the rest of their lives without you. If nothing else, get vaccinated for them.

But wearing masks is the essential ingredient for reducing the spread of this virus, whether you have been vaccinated or not. If you are vaccinated and don’t wear a mask, you are as likely to be a spreader as someone who refuses to be vaccinated. People who are in a position to issue mask mandates for workers or political constituencies are your friends and neighbors who have your own best interests at heart. Even if you don’t agree with them, please wear your mask!

Dan Bishop,