While the world anxiously awaits the development of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine, you're hopefully already following the CDC's recommendation to wear a face mask in order to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets to others. But in one recent commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists are theorizing that wearing a mask could also provide the wearer with some form of virus immunity by allowing exposure to just enough of the virus to trigger a protective response. So what does that mean? Nothing right now. The findings are inconclusive and you should absolutely still follow the recommended prevention strategies currently in place, including social distancing, avoiding crowds, thorough handwashing, and mask wearing while we await a vaccine (and most likely even after one has been developed).
The report, recently covered in a New York Times article, highlights a form of variolation and is described as "the deliberate exposure to a pathogen to generate a protective immune response." It's not a new method, as it was tried against smallpox, but the practice is risky and is no longer in common use. It did, however, inspire the way we create modern vaccines.
Just like the way a vaccine works, scientists in this report argue that if a small number of pathogens are able to slip through the mask, it might trigger the body's production of immune cells, which can remember the virus during future exposures and be able to fight it off. This also theorizes that if a person does get sick, they might not get as severe a case.
Angela Rasmussen, PhD, a virologist at Columbia University, who spoke with The New York Times, says she is skeptical and wants to remind people that vaccines are inherently less dangerous than actual infections. Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician in CA and one of the authors of the published piece also reinforces this is all just one theory. So continue wearing a mask and if you have symptoms or believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 quarantine yourself and contact your doctor.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.