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CDC to Advise Return to Masks Indoors for Some Vaccinated Americans

By Robin Foster HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 27, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday is expected to recommend a return to masks indoors for the fully vaccinated in some areas of the country.

The latest decision is a sharp reversal from one the agency announced just two months ago, when it said that vaccinated people could shed their masks while inside.

Reports of a rise in mild "breakthrough" infections with the Delta variant in fully vaccinated people, as well as case surges in regions with low vaccination rates, appear to have prompted the latest decision, the New York Times reported.

Federal officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence that may have triggered the reversal, CNN reported.

"I think that's great," Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, told the Times. Based on what scientists are learning about the Delta variant's ability to cause breakthrough infections, she said, "this is a move in the right direction."

But Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, strongly disagreed that a return to masks is the right decision.

"I have not seen data that shows that vaccinated individuals are driving this pandemic. The CDC director and the president have said this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, but yet the vaccinated are being asked to wear masks -- both can't be true," he said.

"And to what end are we wearing masks for? COVID is not a disease that can be eradicated or limited, and we will always have cases," Adalja added. "The goal was to make it a manageable respiratory illness, and it is so in many places where enough high-risk individuals have been vaccinated."

"If you are immuno-suppressed, there may be a benefit to wearing a mask post-vaccination. But, for the general healthy public that's fully vaccinated, I don't really see this as being anything more than [of] marginal value," he noted. "Lastly, the places where you want people to wear masks or where vaccination rates are low are comprised of those individuals [who] are unlikely to wear a mask. The solution is the vaccine, not masks."

As of Tuesday, 57.5% of all Americans aged 12 and older were fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

In May, the CDC guidance did still recommend that unvaccinated people wear masks. Those recommendations drew sharp criticism from some experts, who said it was premature because so many Americans are still not fully vaccinated.

At the time, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky pointed to two scientific findings as significant factors in the May guidance. Few vaccinated people become infected with the virus, and transmission seemed rarer still, she noted, while the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus, the Times said.

A day after the May announcement, the agency released results from a large study showing that the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna were 94% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in those who got two doses, and 82% effective in those who had received one dose, the Times reported.

But those data were based on infections that occurred before the Delta variant began sweeping through the country. Reports of clusters of infections among fully immunized people, who develop either no or mild symptoms, have suggested that this highly contagious variant may be able to break through vaccine barriers more often than previous variants of the virus did.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on masking properly during the pandemic.

SOURCES: Amesh Adalja, MD, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore; The New York Times

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