In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or maintain social distancing practices in most settings—just as Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, had predicted days prior. But now, amid rising infection cases due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, the CDC is expected to recommend vaccinated people continue wearing face masks while indoors in certain parts of the country.
According to the New York Times, the CDC’s earlier recommendation that the fully vaccinated were clear to go mask-free was met with criticism from some medical experts who said it was premature advisement considering the large number of hard-headed Americans who refuse to take the vaccine and those who haven’t gotten around to it yet.
But Americans who continue to go around unprotected from infection aren’t the only problem. When CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky responded to critics by pointing out data that suggested vaccinated people becoming infected was rare, and rarer were instances where they transmit the virus to others, the emergence of the Delta variant—which Walensky said last month could become the dominant strain in America—hadn’t been considered.
From the Times:
A day after the announcement, the agency released results from a large study showing that the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness in those who got two doses, and 82 percent effective in those who had received one dose.
But those data, and the C.D.C.’s decision, were based on infections of previous versions of the virus before the Delta variant began sweeping through the country. Reports of clusters of infections among fully immunized people have suggested that the variant may be able to break through the vaccine barrier more often than previous iterations of the virus.
Fauci has also changed his tune on how “liberal” we should be in loosening COVID-19 restrictions. In a Sunday interview on CNN, he said the pandemic was “going in the wrong direction” because too many Americans were not getting vaccinated. According to the Times, just under half of the American population is fully vaccinated.
The vaccines “remain effective against the worst outcomes of infection with the virus, including those involving the Delta variant,” the Times reports, but if this pandemic has taught us anything over the last year or so, it’s that erring on the side of caution can save lives and, maybe one of these days, lead to a complete end to the health crisis.