The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have lost a lot of credibility during the Covid-19 pandemic by being late or wrong with tests, masks, vaccine assignments, and reopening of schools. Staying consistent with that pattern, this week, three months after the vaccine’s release began, the CDC finally began telling vaccinated people that they can have normal interactions with other vaccinated people, but only in very limited circumstances. Given the impressive effectiveness of the vaccine, that should have been immediately obvious applying scientific inference and common sense.
Parts of the new guidelines are absurdly restrictive. For example, the CDC did not withdraw its advice to avoid air travel after vaccination. One year of pre-vaccine experience has shown that airplanes are not a source of spread. A study conducted for the Department of Defense found that commercial aircraft have HEPA filtration and airflow that exceeds the standards of a hospital operating room.
The guidelines approve of vaccinated people meeting low-risk unvaccinated people, but only with people from the same household and in a small private setting. Both for restaurants, birthday parties and weddings.
An unpublished study conducted by the Israel Ministry of Health and Pfizer showed that vaccination reduced transmission by between 89% and 94% and almost completely prevented hospitalization and death, according to press reports. Immunity kicks in fully about four weeks after the first dose of vaccine, and then it’s essentially bulletproof. With the added security of wearing a mask indoors for a few more weeks or months, a practical necessity in public places, even if not medical, since you can’t tell with the naked eye if someone is immune, there’s little that needs to be a vaccinated person. discouraged to do.
On a positive note, the CDC said that fully vaccinated asymptomatic people don’t need to be tested. But that obvious recommendation should have come two months ago, before so much testing was wasted on people who have high levels of circulating antibodies due to vaccination.
In its guidance, the CDC says that the risks of infection in vaccinated people “cannot be completely eliminated.” It is true that we do not have conclusive data to guarantee that vaccination reduces the risk to zero. We never will. We operate within the realm of medical judgment based on the best available data, as practicing physicians have always done. The CDC highlights the staggering success of vaccines, but is ridiculously cautious about their implications. Public health officials focus myopically on the risk of transmission while ignoring the broader health crisis stemming from isolation. The CDC recognizes the “potential” risks of isolation, but does not elaborate.
It is time to release vaccinated people to restore their relationships and rebuild their lives. That would encourage vaccination by giving indecisive people a vivid incentive to get the shots.
Throughout the pandemic, authorities have failed to take precautions. Hospitals prevented family members from being with loved ones as they gasped for air and choked on a ventilation tube, what some patients describe as the worst feeling in the world. In addition to the power of holding a hand, family members coordinate care and serve as a valuable safety net, a partnership urgently needed when many hospitals were understaffed. Separating family members was excessive and cruel, driven by narrow thinking that was singularly focused on reducing the risk of viral transmission, without taking into account the damage to human quality of life.
As people yearn to be with their loved ones and rebuild communities, we must not repeat that mistake. We cannot overstate the threat to public health, as we did with the hospital visitation rules, and continue to crush the human spirit with policies that are too restrictive for vaccinated Americans.
Loneliness has turned into a public health crisis. In the pre-Covid era, an estimated 20% of Americans struggled with loneliness, a figure that has surely multiplied faster than research has been able to measure. We recalled this last week in a FAIR Health study that revealed that self-harm among children increased by as much as 300% last year in some parts of the country. Future research is likely to find that insulation damage is greater than is believed today.
Some experts selectively appeal to common sense when it comes to using discretion. Anthony Fauci said it was “common sense” to wear two masks at the same time. I will also invoke “common sense” to answer the big question that many ask themselves: What can I do after being vaccinated? Once a month has passed after your first injection, return to normal.
Dr. Makary is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is the Senior Medical Advisor for Sesame Care and the author of “The Price We Pay.”
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It appeared in the print edition of March 11, 2021.