Is CDC sending premature, mixed message to people who have been vaccinated?

Vaccinated can still transmit infections, critic says

BOSTON — James and Elizabeth Wagner had one thing on their minds after getting immunized against Covid-19 Tuesday at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable.

“Definitely a haircut,” said Elizabeth.

“I’ve been advised I need a haircut,” agreed James.

That may be the first order of business for the couple. But down the line, they’ve got something more pressing on the agenda: seeing their kids for the first time in more than a year. “We’ve got a daughter in D.C. and a son in Colorado,” James said. “It feels like a weight has been lifted.”

However, the Barretts aren’t taking the yoke off any time soon. Like others who spoke with Boston 25 News at the clinic, staying the course is still on the table, despite the protection conferred by vaccination.

“It’s not quite a ‘Get out of jail free’ card,” James Barrett said. “It’s more like a ‘On your best behavior’ for a few more months.”

But Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed greater freedoms for the vaccinated -- including small, private congregations without masks.

That gave Erika Woods, Deputy Director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment -- one of the sponsors of the vaccine clinic -- some pause.

“I really go by what the governor says,” Woods said. “It’s one of those things where we just all have to be on the same page. You know this is not a cue for everybody to stop wearing masks and stop social distancing. There’s still different variants out there there still a lot of people that have not been able to get the vaccine even though they’re in that 75-plus group, or whatever, so we still do need to be careful.”

And there still remains this simple fact about all the vaccines:

“They’re highly effective, they’re safe. But at the end of the day, they’re not 100 percent entirely effective,” said Karl Minges, chair of the Health Administration and Policy department at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. “So you could have a scenario where someone gets the Covid-19 vaccination and then they are one of the five percent or 10 percent or, in some cases, 20 percent of people who still get the virus. Maybe they don’t even know it. And then they’re going to even these small gatherings and spreading that virus.”

While it’s expected that the vaccinated will develop mild Covid infections -- if they develop any infection at all -- nothing is guaranteed.

And a key point to remember in that regard is that clinical trials of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines were conducted at different times during the pandemic -- and thus against different variants of the virus.

That may explain why the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have stated efficacies exceeding 90 percent in clinical trials, while the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen single-dose shot, came in at about 66 percent effective.

“If you were truly going to compare the efficacy across the various types of vaccinations you’d want a trial that would be conducted at the same exact time with people randomized to the various vaccines to determine their overall efficacy,” Minges said. “But that wasn’t done. J & J’s vaccine was developed later than Moderna and Pfizer’s and for that reason it was in a different environment. It was tested in different countries that even had some of the most contagious variants that are out there.”

Those contagious variants, of course, are now here. And public health officials have been predicting for months they could become dominant this spring.

Minges thinks it was premature for the CDC to ease up on gatherings for those vaccinated -- because community spread of Covid is still fairly rampant, and, with the variants, the course of the pandemic remains somewhat unpredictable.

“I think if we were in a setting where we had say, 10,000 cases in the U.S. per day, that’s when we could start relaxing some of the restrictions with more confidence,” he said.

The CDC reported more than 124,000 new cases on Monday, March 8.

Minges also worries that setting down rules on who can and can’t gather will prove as confusing as the mask/no mask debacle last spring -- an issue which still reverberates today.

“And you don’t want this mixed messaging in public health because it confuses people very easily and it might dissuade people from getting the vaccine in the first place,” he said.

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