Issues in Use of Masks and Vaccines in a Time of Conflict


Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    9-21

ABSTRACT:  Interchanges regarding the desirability and usefulness of using masks and vaccines to counter COVID-19 are taking place mostly by assertions of opinion and wish, rather than by serious consideration of the knowledge and the data that we have about the problem.  This brief piece describes the steps that could be taken in such a consideration or re-consideration of what is known through “science” about the problem. 

KEY WORDS:  COVID-19, masks, vaccines, vaccinations, public health policy

There is considerable disagreement in our society at the moment about the use of masks and vaccines to quell COVID-19 infections.  Those who are willing to “follow the science” generally agree that both are needed, while another group (sometimes following non-governmental “scientists” and doctors) disagrees.  People who oppose using masks are often those who oppose vaccines also, but there are some who favor one but oppose the other.  It is difficult for the first group to “understand” why the second group holds the opinions it does.  Below you will find the key fact-assertions that could help both groups understand each other and perhaps also clarify their own positions further (based on my own understanding of our current COVID information and data, as of 10-1-21).  Following that is a discussion of the views of both groups regarding risk.  (Also see my essay “The Effect of Differing Approaches to Living on Mask-Wearing for COVID” on

Everyone has reasons why they believe what they believe, although people may disagree that these reasons are sufficient to justify certain consequent actions.  These reasons may stem from a person’s conception of the physical “facts” about the infection, as they understand them, or from emotional reasons (such as employing denial to avoid the issue entirely, taking a position because someone one trusts has that position, a history of misuse of science to the detriment of one’s group, or allegiance to a political cause that espouses a certain view of the virus and its effects).

All of us are doing the best we can all the time, and we always make decisions based on what we believe currently to be in our best interest.  No parents would allow his or her children to be around people with the virus if he or she believed that it would mean certain death for their children.


Without some agreement on basic facts about a virus and its infections, there is little hope of adjusting positions that are actually based on desire (how we would like things to be) or unsupported opinion.

1. COVID-19 illnesses are caused by a virus that has been identified and differentiated from other viruses and from other illnesses.

Agreement on this is necessary if there is to be any further discussion of “the facts” about infection and transmission, although hearing non-virus explanations for the infections could be enlightening.  Non-virus explanations may lead to a conclusion that neither masks nor vaccines are key to controlling infections.  The first group (“follow the science” as reported in standard media) should admit that for them this assertion is based on appeal to “authority,” since those who agree with it (or “believe” it) have not themselves verified it personally but are trusting certain medical experts and what they say to be correct.  Some in the second group (those who disagree with the government’s science) have religious or non-scientific explanations for the illness, have heard other “experts” give opinions or report studies that differ from the government’s science, or cling to the pronouncements of political leaders or to their faith in religious remedies, folk remedies or little-known but supposedly researched treatments.

2. COVID-19 infections are spread mainly through virus in the air, almost all of it put in the air by the respiratory actions of those who already have the virus in their bodies.  The virus is present in our nasal passages and in our lungs and it spreads within the body through the bloodstream.

This has been verified through microscopic examination, and it is consistent with patterns of spreading infection (i.e., when masks are widely used, infections decrease and when vaccines are widely used, deaths decrease).

3. The virus is present in the nasal passages of many, if not most, people including those who are vaccinated and those who are not, even if the individual is not and has never been “sick.”   This means that it is almost certain that there is virus in your nasal passages.  (The latest CDC information is that vaccinated persons have just as much virus in their nasal passages as unvaccinated persons.)  In general this is true of many disease-causing viruses and bacteria—we all have them, to some extent, in our respiratory systems, bloodstreams, and digestive systems much of the time even though we do not “get sick.”

The presence of COVID virus in most, if not all, people has been verified through microscopic examination.

4. If you have this virus in your nasal passages, you cannot stop from putting it into the air through your breathing, and other people can then take it into their noses with their breathing, thus spreading the infection.  They may or may not become ill with this virus, just as you may have some of the virus but not get ill.

Pictures have been taken of the vapor drops and particles coming out of everyone’s respiratory openings, so we know that this is true.  The presence of virus in exhaled breath has been scientifically verified.

5. The reactions of individuals to this virus vary greatly.  Some become very sick and even die, while a large number have no symptoms or have only mild symptoms, at the level of those in cases of the flu or “a cold.” 

This is demonstrated through virus testing and finding antibodies to this virus in the bloodstreams of some who are not aware that they have been ill or who have not been seriously ill.  We do not know what accounts for this variation in response.

6. Children do not “get” the disease as readily as adults, though this is now known to vary with particular variants of this virus.  Many more children are being infected with the Delta variant of the virus than with the original version of the virus.

This is clear from the percentages of children and adults who have been diagnosed with the different variants of the disease.

7. A small number of those who are vaccinated get the disease anyway, but they are much less likely than unvaccinated individuals to have serious illness requiring hospitalization or resulting in death.

This is proven by the percentages of vaccinated versus unvaccinated persons who receive medical treatment or are hospitalized and by the percentage who die.

8. Mask-wearing stops some of the virus that you exhale and some of the virus that you take in from the air around you, and it reduces the likelihood but does not completely eliminate the possibility of getting the disease or of giving it to someone else.  This reduction is greater with some type of masks (N-95, KN-95) then with others like the more common, rectangular fabric masks and bandannas and other substitutes.

This is demonstrated beyond doubt by research.  Some who do not wish to wear masks justify not wearing masks with the fact that masks don’t completely stop the virus, saying “they don’t work”, but this is not a strong argument against mask-wearing that significantly reduces the risk to others (and to oneself), even if only by fifty percent, of getting the virus.

9. If you grant that the above eight statements are correct, it must be the case that—
            a. It is likely that you could infect others.
Since most people have a certain amount of virus in their nasal
passages, any one of those people (including you if you have virus
in your nasal passages, including many persons who have already
had COVID, and including many people who have been fully
vaccinated) could infect others who have not yet contacted the
Only those who do not have any virus in their nasal passages
currently have no chance of infecting others (but we cannot tell
            who they are day to day, since even if a PCR test shows no virus on
day, you could have some in your nasal passages the next day.

            b. If you wear a mask, it is less likely (not perfectly but less likely)
that you will infect others, and if you wear an N-95 or KN-95 mask,
it is even less likely that you will infect others.

If a person accepts statements 1 through 9 above, then he or she accepts that he or she may infect others with the virus even if they do not think that they are sick or have virus, even if they are vaccinated, and even if they have already been sick with the virus.  This has implications for accepting mask wearing and/or getting vaccinated, but risk also enters the person’s calculations.

We should note that some persons may simply disbelieve the CDC data and the medical explanation for spreading infections and on that basis reject the notion that they could infect others.  In discussions such as these, it is ideal for both participants to allow the possibility that the other person has arguments that to him/her lead rationally to his/her position.  Believers in “the science” are cautioned to remember that they are assuming that the information that they have is correct even though they have not personally verified it.  They believe what they believe partly because it is the dominant view of science in our culture.  Disbelievers regarding the government’s science information should admit they are going against the dominant view of science and that if they disbelieve, they should have really good reasons for doing so.  Believers can realize that the other person is going against the dominant view of science in our culture, but that this by itself does not guarantee that they are completely “wrong.”


At the present time (10-1-21) our Center for Disease Control reports that there have been about 43 million cases of COVID recorded in this country by the healthcare system and about 695 thousand deaths.  Many more (number unknown) have had COVID but have not been symptomatic or have not felt any different from when they have “a cold” or the flu. 

Given our population of 330 million, as of 10-1-21, 13 percent of people have had recorded cases of COVID so far (13 out of 100) (compared to 12 out of 100 as of 9-1-21), and 0.2 percent of our total population have died from it (approximately 1 out of every 500).  1.6 percent of the people who have had recorded cases of COVID have died (about 3 out of every 200 people).  More people will get COVID and more people will die of COVID in the future so these percentages will go up somewhat, but the rate of dying has declined significantly as doctors have learned what they can do to combat the disease.  It is not clear what percent of the total population will have had COVID (herd immunity?) when the pandemic is “over,” and there will probably continue to be cases every year, just as we have with the flu.

Public health officials in the U.S. have presented data such as these in a manner that implies that the risk is significant, perhaps because professionally they believe that any death is too many.  This has led those in the first group (above) to view the risk as significant, even though only one out of every 500 people in our total population has died from it so far, and only three out of 200 of those who have had recorded cases of COVID have died so far.  People will vary in whether they think this level of risk is significant, even though they might all agree that it was significant if the number dying was higher considerably (20 percent of the total population—one out every five?).

The second group (above) are more likely to think this to be a risk worth taking (and therefore not wearing masks or getting vaccinated), because this justifies them in not wearing masks, not getting vaccinated, and not restricting their movements in public.  They may also see the COVID risk as no greater than other risks they face frequently (not having enough money for basic necessities, being out of work, having other diseases, being harmed in police encounters).  Those who have other (non-virus) explanations for the illness or who have other (non-medical) explanations for the spread of the virus might even dispute the risk numbers made public or the motives of public officials.  Most people will resist efforts to devalue those they have already trusted in regard to COVID matters.


Those who believe that there is no problem or no significant problem may not be swayed by presentation of the physical facts about COVID as understood by mainstream science, but if they accept the descriptions above of how virus transmission takes place, they could still be appealed to to wear masks and get vaccinated on the basis that this would keep some others from becoming infected.  This would be a hard sell in general, because the inconvenience of wearing masks, being vaccinated, and restricting one’s movements in public are significant to many people, and because most people don’t like accepting that they carry virus in their nasal passages even if they are not and have not been ill.  Some would wear masks to help others, but very few would get vaccinated or restrict their movements in public just because someone else believed differently or because someone else didn’t view the risks the same way.  They would think that those who believe there is a significant problem should change their beliefs.


The discussions about what to do about COVID infections are complicated by (1) different ways of understanding the physical nature of the disease and how it is spread, (2) different choices of what voices of authority to believe regarding the virus, (3) different conclusions about the risks involved, and (4) different attitudes about being inconvenienced (vaccinations, masks) or harmed (catastrophic loss of income due to lock-downs) by conforming to someone else’s view of the disease and the risks.

Changes in any of these areas could motivate someone to conform more closely to the prevailing wisdom concerning COVID.  Those who believe in “the science” are highly unlikely to convert to other views (unless modern science is suddenly completely disavowed and discarded), although sober reflection on the infection/death statistics could reduce the emotional concern they feel about becoming infected (as well as increasing somewhat their understanding of those who resist masks and vaccinations).  We must keep in mind that people do what they believe will be in their best interest, and any attitude or behavior changes regarding COVID must be perceived by the person to be in his or her best interest.