More than 28 million Americans who have been completely vaccinated against the coronavirus will have to wait for federal health officials to give them advice about what they should and shouldn’t do.
The Biden administration said on Friday that it is concentrating on having the guidelines correct and accommodating new research, but the delays are adding to the confusion about ending the pandemic as the country’s virus fatigue rises.
“These are complicated problems, and research is rapidly evolving,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday. “We are taking our time to ensure that this is done correctly, and we will be publishing this guidance soon.”
A flood of questions from people who have been completely vaccinated against COVID-19 will be answered by such guidance: Is it always necessary for me to wear a mask? Is it possible for me to go to a bar right now? Is it possible for me to actually see my grandchildren?
Since January, when the first Americans began to finish the two-dose series of COVID-19 vaccines that were then affordable, the demand has gradually increased. According to Andy Slavitt, a senior administration advisor on the pandemic, more than half of people 65 and older have now taken at least one shot.
Raul Espinoza Gomez has 22 grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Washington county, and he has a coronavirus vaccine appointment on Saturday.
The 77-year-immune old’s system will be able to battle the virus by Easter. But, according to Melissa Espinoza, 47, of Carnation, Washington, who plans to drive Gomez, her father-in-law, to get his second shot, how the family celebrates will be determined by government advice.
“At Christmas, we didn’t get together as a big family,” she said. “We follow the recommendations of the state and federal guidelines. COVID has had a negative impact on some of our family members. We’re well aware of the dangers.”
Concerned about the high number of cases and deaths, the Biden administration has slammed attempts to loosen state virus controls and pleaded with the public for more patience for several months.
The caution has sparked criticism, with critics pointing to the administration’s own warnings that “fatigue is winning” as proof that they need to be more positive about the road ahead in order to ensure the cooperation of those who have not yet been vaccinated.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said of the CDC guidelines, “I think it’s going to be overly proscriptive and conservative, and that’s the wrong message.” “If we continue to be overly prescriptive and fail to provide people with a reasonable view of what a better future might look like, they will begin to disregard public health advice.”
Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician in the Division of Health Policy and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, urged the CDC to be more transparent on when and how it expects to release recommendations for the vaccinated.
“Deciding to go by the science often means deciding that you’ll have to make a decision, which is very complicated because the science isn’t settled,” he told the Associated Press. “They’re drinking from a firehose of science, and it can get a little messy at times.”
About 55.5 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, with slightly more than half — 28.7 million — receiving the required two doses. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot will soon add a few million more Americans to the list of people who are unsure about their newfound freedoms.
Rolando Solar, 92, who got his second dose in Miami on Wednesday, said, “I really hope I get to see my great-grandchildren more.” “However, I am well aware that things will not return to normal, and for an elderly man like me, this is as good as it will get.”
Tami Katz-Freiman, 65, of Miami, received her second dose three weeks ago and plans to digitally watch the Miami Film Festival at the home of unvaccinated friends on Sunday. Masks will be worn by everyone.
“We didn’t have to talk about it because it’s very clear to me that if there is a question and there isn’t a clear CDC guideline, you should be on the safe side and take care of yourself,” Katz-Freiman said.
The CDC declared three weeks ago that people who are completely vaccinated do not need to be quarantined if they come into contact with someone who has a reported infection (for 90 days after the final shot). But, as Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, pointed out, the department said nothing more.
“That (quarantine guidance) seems to mean to me that the chances of contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to others is pretty low,” said Wen, who previously served as the director of Baltimore’s health department.
“However, we need to concentrate on what matters most to people’s lives, and my patients aren’t asking me, ‘If I’m vaccinated, do I still need to quarantine if I’m exposed?’” she added.
“The most popular question I get is, ‘Can I visit my grandchildren?’” says the author. Wen remarked.
Experts believe the CDC’s caution is appropriate given the many scientific concerns that remain, such as how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts and if vaccinated people can still spread the virus to others. When advising others about what kind of danger they face in various situations and how much of a risk they are to others, the answers are crucial.
“At their best, the vaccines were 95 percent successful in clinical trials; I didn’t say 100 percent. That’s why, for the most part, we have to wear masks,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
But, he said, the CDC needed to come up with something better for vaccinated people than the same old mask-wearing, social-distancing advice.
“People are so excited to get involved, and they want to see tangible results from vaccinations. Americans have a short attention span. Schaffner said, “They want to get on with it.”
Indeed, “there is a real cost to deferring this guidance,” as people seek advice from their own doctors or make their own conclusions and decisions, according to Wen.
Waiting too long can reduce the CDC’s importance in this region, according to Wen, who believes the agency should have issued some kind of guidelines for vaccinated people in January.
Clearly, people who had been vaccinated should have been advised to get cancer scans, dental treatment, and other necessary medical appointments. According to her, CDC officials should have said it’s fine for small groups of fully vaccinated people — say, two or three couples — to get together for a dinner or other small gathering.
At a recent White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases doctor, said that “the relative risk is so low that you wouldn’t have to wear a mask, that you could have a nice social gathering inside the home.”
Some experts speculated that movie theaters, cruise ships, and other businesses could open their doors to vaccinated patrons and require proof of vaccination status. Anyone who has obtained two doses of COVID vaccine from an approved vaccination provider in Israel is now eligible for a “green pass” vaccination certificate.
Wen said, “I’m not sure if we will tolerate the federal government issuing any kind of pass, as they did in Israel.” However, such passes could be desired by companies, and they may serve as an incentive to increase vaccination rates overall, according to Wen.
Espinoza’s family was only motivated to get vaccinated after having her and her husband diagnosed with COVID-19 this winter. She is still healing and relies on oxygen at home.
The vaccination of the family elders brings them one step closer to resuming their favorite traditions: Palm Sunday church, followed by an Easter egg search for the kids and a meal featuring slow-cooked barbacoa, a Mexican beef dish, a week later.
“I hope people can stay at home and be as healthy as possible before we can all be vaccinated and this disease is eradicated,” Espinoza said.