Is it safe for vaccinated people to go maskless?

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control announced that it’s safe for people who’ve been fully vaccinated to dance through the world naked–

Sorry. Not naked. Maskless. Which after a year and more of pandemic feels like the same thing. So this might be a good time to ask, What the hell’s going on? 

Let’s turn to an article in the Conversation that breaks it down manageably. It’s not a long article or a difficult one, and it’s well worth reading, because I’m going to boil it down until all that’s left is a thick syrup.

First, the vaccines we have for Covid are more effective than anyone had the right to expect. Much more effective. But they–or at least most of them–don’t provide sterilizing immunity. (There’s a chance one does but we’re not there yet.) 

To translate that, they don’t stop the virus from entering our systems, they only stop them from getting us sick. That’s less than ideal because it leaves open the possibility that we can pass on the disease.

Irrelevant photo: cornflowers

At the moment, it looks like the vaccines make fully vaccinated people less likely to spread the disease, but the numbers aren’t in yet. They’re outside, running around in the wet grass and refusing to come in for dinner. Or supper. Or whatever you call that meal. And Covid numbers are particularly hard to call home. It has to do with the disease’s habit of spreading while people don’t have symptoms.

Never mind that, though. What we need to know is that it’s hard to make those numbers behave and that scientists are working on it and that dinner’s going to be cold. Nothing’s certain, but a couple of studies hint at fully vaccinated being able to spread the disease–which means they’re able to spread new, more infectious variants. 

That is highly inconvenient but it doesn’t mean that vaccination’s pointless. Vaccination protects the vaccinated person, and it may mean they’re less likely to spread the disease. Less likely isn’t the same thing as incapable of, but it’s an improvement over what we had at this time last year.

The article (remember the article?) ends by saying, “The . . . relaxed guidelines on masking are meant to reassure vaccinated people that they are safe from serious illness. And they are. But the picture is less clear-cut for the unvaccinated who interact with them. Until near herd immunity against COVID-19 is achieved, and clear evidence accumulates that vaccinated people do not spread the virus, I and many epidemiologists believe it is better to avoid situations where there are chances to get infected. Vaccination coupled with continued masking and social distancing is still an effective way to stay safer.”

Boiled down to a thick syrup, that says masks still make sense. 


An update on viruses and human DNA

A study published in the Journal of Virology found no evidence that Covid integrates its genetic material into human DNA. An earlier study had found it doing that in petri dishes, but in real life–

Okay, think of this as computer dating. You exchange a few messages with someone, maybe you have a Zoom date. You establish that they can hold a coherent conversation and that they’re not a cat (that’s either good or bad, depending on who you are and what your preferences happen to be). Then you meet and think, I can’t spend an hour with this person, never mind my life. 

That’s what it was like for the Covid virus. In the petri dish, mingling genetic materials looked like a good idea. In person though? 


Some viruses do fall in love with us, and human DNA is a palimpsest of useless bits of genetic material left behind by bugs we danced a couple of numbers with back–oh, it might’ve been as early as when life was simple and we still had hairy bodies. The bits of genetic code don’t make us sick. They don’t make us better. They just sit there remembering old times.

That integration is called a chimeric event. And a palimpsest is something with layers of meaning, buried history, like a canvas that’s been painted over but the old brushwork is still there, under the surface. That bit of not particularly useful knowledge comes to us courtesy of the Cambridge Dictionary.

For anyone who’s spooked by the idea that MRNA vaccines might integrate themselves into our DNA, this new study should be good news: Covid doesn’t seem to love us. But for anyone trying to figure out why some people test positive for Covid long after they’ve gotten rid of the infection, it may not be good news. Chimeric events had been suggested as an explanation. Take that away and we’re left with the possibility that they might be getting reinfected and the question of whether they continue to be infectious.


How to vaccinate 108% of your population

The island of Nauru has injected 108% of its adult population with at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

How’d they do that? They included foreign visitors, coming up with a total of  7,392 people. The island has been free of the virus, but every visitor brought the risk of an outbreak, so this comes as a real relief.


Online gamers researching Covid

Thanks to game designers embedding a citizen science project inside a game called EVE online, players are helping researchers learn about Covid and the immune system. The idea is to look at the blood cells of people who have Covid and eventually sort out why some people get severe cases and how Covid makes us sick. 

Thousands of gamers have been looking for patterns in groups of cells and have fed 120 million data submissions into Project Discovery. That amounts to decades of data analysis, and each submission also teaches the program to learn the process so that it can be automated in the future. 

The game’s popular, something I can prove by telling you that I’ve never heard of it.