Top experts say masks are as important as a vaccine in the fight against Covid-19

While there has been a lot of talk and hope that an effective Covid-19 vaccine will be available soon, top experts say an affordable tool that already exists is just as important in the fight against the pandemic: masks.

Dr. Christina Brennan, vice president of clinical research at Northwell Health's Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, told "60 Minutes" on Sunday that if she had to choose between a mask or a vaccine, a mask is more important.

"With our social distancing, wearing of the mask, the data's already showing that it's been effective. It's, you know, cost savings, and it's effective. And it can go a long way," said Brennan, who oversees multiple clinical trials using drugs such as Remdesivir, which President Donald Trump received on Oct. 2, to treat Covid-19.

Dr. David Ho, a world renowned virologist working on developing monoclonal antibody therapies for Covid-19 at Columbia University, who also appeared on "60 Minutes," emphasizes the importance of masks too. He tells CNBC Make It that "masks are key right now." But "we need as many tools in our tool box as we can have in dealing with this pandemic," says Ho, and "vaccines and therapies would make a huge difference as well."

Dr. Kevin Tracey, who spoke to "60 Minutes" and heads the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, says masks are key in tackling Covid-19 now.

"The reality is we know the masks work," Tracey, who is doing clinical trials and research around Covid-19 treatments, tells Make It. But also, "we know we need to make therapies and vaccines."

It's a similar case to HIV, says Tracey: treatments for HIV are "pretty effective," but he still advises people to have safe sex with condoms because they can prevent infection.

Masks are "pretty good" at preventing infection, too, Tracey says. "But neither [masks nor vaccines] are perfect."

Multiple studies throughout the pandemic have found that wearing masks is linked to lower transmission rates. Tracey cited a recent study from Northwell Health that found healthcare workers had a lower infection rate than the general public because they wore PPE at all times.

While the study is good news, Tracey says we still need a vaccine and therapies to fight Covid-19 going forward. He predicts effective Covid-19 therapies will be readily available in another year or two.

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