Understanding N95 masks and their role in the COVID-19 pandemic
N95 masks are respirators according to the classification of respirators established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a federal agency that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They regulate respirators under their requirements and criteria, considered to be the filtration standard for respirators manufactured in the United States.
The term ‘N95’ indicates that the mask isn’t resistant to oil and that it has a filtration rate of 95%. This means these masks are effective to protect against 95% of the non-oil-based airborne particles in the air, which include dust, coal smoke, and viruses like the flu virus and the virus responsible for COVID-19.
Due to their antiviral properties, N95 masks are considered one of the best and most effective disposable face masks for virus protection. They’re more effective than surgical, medical, and reusable cloth masks, and are generally considered to be equivalent to the KN95 masks, which are regulated under the Chinese filtration standard. The most popular ones are the 3M N95 masks, with the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511 models being some of the most purchased ones, and they can be used with face shields and goggles.
They’ve been recommended by the CDC to be reserved and prioritized for healthcare workers and other workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, as they need much more protection in their high-exposure environments. The CDC has also stated that wearing face masks has been proven to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in public places, so face masks are considered our main resource for virus control until a vaccine is developed, approved, and distributed.
How do vaccines work?
As explained by the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccines are made with either inactive or weakened parts of the specific organism they’re meant to protect against, which is called the antigen. An antigen is anything that is considered foreign by the body’s immune system, and it’s capable of triggering an immune response.
Vaccines use a weakened version of the antigen or only a specific part to make sure the body recognizes it an creates an immune memory so that it can respond very strongly if they’re exposed to the antigen a second time, but it also ensures that the body won’t develop the disease that microorganism can cause.
They can be made with many different methods and types of antigens, but they all follow that same principle: prompting the immune system of a person to create a response to an antigen so that when it encounters it again, it can fight it off much more efficiently. Vaccines can be made with the antigen itself, or it can contain a blueprint for the body to create the antigen, like the mRNA vaccines being developed for COVID-19. Vaccines aren’t only varied in the type of antigen they contain, but they can require multiple doses that are given weeks or months apart.
The creation of a vaccine is a complex and very varied process that highly depends on the type of microorganism it’s meant to protect against, as well as the type of vaccine it is. Vaccines are as varied as the microorganisms they protect against, which makes the process of creating a vaccine be influenced by too many factors. Some microorganisms can’t even be protected against with a vaccine due to their nature, some are very hard to create a vaccine against, while some can easily be created.
Vaccines also have to undergo extensive and exhaustive periods of research and study, with four phases of research and strict protocols having to be met. This is why the answer to so many questions, including when a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready and how effective it will be are very hard to answer at this moment. The definitive effectiveness of a vaccine can’t be determined until it’s been distributed to the public, which is why all the results published so far are preliminary and depend on many variables.
Here, you can take a look at all the vaccines currently in development against COVID-19, including whether or not they use the antigen or a blueprint, the efficacy rates so far, the number of doses, and how they’re stored. For a more detailed explanation of how vaccines are created, the phases of study they have to undergo, as well as an updated tracker of each COVID-19 vaccine, this New York Times article is a very informative resource.
What will happen to the N95 mask market in a post-vaccine world?
In an ideal world, the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine would mean that the pandemic will instantly be over and we could all forget about wearing face masks. But, it doesn’t come down to only the approval of a vaccine, and a lot of factors will come into play.
For example, a certain percentage of the population would have to be administered the vaccine to gain the percentage of immunity needed for the pandemic to end. Availability of the vaccine to the public isn’t always a given, so this will influence how things turn out. As we mentioned, the effectiveness of each vaccine will still be under research after the vaccine is distributed to the public, and it may not be as high as the effectiveness shown in the preliminary results.
So, it’s hard to say how the approval of a vaccine will affect the N95 mask market, but it’s safe to say that it will not immediately shut it down.
We would like to finish this informative article by reminding our readers that anyone who uses any type of face-covering, including kids over the age of 2 years old with the corresponding size that will fit them well, is helping out in the goal to prevent the spread of the virus until a vaccine is approved. Face masks can be found for sale online, with options to buy in bulk and wholesale.