Expert upholds masks as better than vaccines in preventing COVID-19 infection

Lim Chang-won Reporter() | Posted : August 25, 2020, 15:12 | Updated : August 25, 2020, 16:58

[Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- Experts at the forefront of quarantine in South Korea were pessimistic about the development of a perfect vaccine due to the nature of respiratory diseases, saying that masks would be better than vaccines in preventing the spread of COVID-19 if it's evitable to live with viruses in the "new normal" era.

"There is no guarantee that a safe and efficient vaccine will come out. Even if it comes out, it won't end this pandemic," Oh Myoung-don, a renowned infectious diseases physician at Seoul National University Hospital, told a press conference. He heads a committee of physicians and experts treating COVID-19 patients.

"In fact, it is difficult to guarantee that the vaccine we want now will be better than masks we are currently using in preventing the spread of (infection)," Oh said, suggesting that a vaccine will be available next spring at the earliest.

South Korea has unveiled a roadmap for the treatment of COVID-19 to develop plasma treatment by the year's end as well as antibody treatment and vaccines next year. However, Oh said that many vaccines under development would not significantly reduce the virus.

Experts believe that it is hard to expect a complete vaccine because cells containing antibodies cannot come out of the body to neutralize the virus in the nose and mouth. Oh's remarks came as South Korean health officials are struggling to contain a new wave of COVID-19 that began after an anti-government rally by thousands of defiant right-wing Christian activists in the center of Seoul on August 15.

"Domestic re-proliferation is not a unique phenomenon in South Korea, and it is an inevitable process in the new normal era where we live with the virus," Oh said. A new normal is a state to which an economy and society settle following a crisis when this differs from the situation that prevailed prior to the start of the crisis.

The preventive effect of personal quarantine such as physical distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, is probably "higher than any vaccines," the expert said, adding the re-proliferation of COVID-19 has been expected.

Oh remained negative about a strong social lockdown to reduce the load on South Korea's health system, saying it is not a long-term solution. "As the level of quarantine increases, the socioeconomic impact becomes very broad, so a decision on the final stage of quarantine is an issue that requires social consensus."

The expert stressed that people should be careful about breathing through the mouth because it allows the virus to enter the lungs directly. "We usually breathe through our noses, but when we are talking, singing, or exercising heavily, we breathe through our mouths. There are usually defense mechanisms in the nose and upper airways that filter out pathogens, but you should be careful because breathing with your mouth does not go through them."
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