Infectious disease experts weighed in on the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask guidance, vaccine boosters and the chance of a vaccine mandate.
NIH Director Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to WTOP about the COVID-19 delta variant.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the wearing of masks indoors for vaccinated people in places of substantial or high community transmission, and Dr. Anthony Fauci told WTOP this could all be behind us if an overwhelming proportion of the population gets vaccinated.
“We have about 100 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not getting vaccinated,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi, with the University of California San Francisco, said that the CDC’s updated guidance does feel like a step back, but she believes that the delta variant is different.
“It’s a horrible variant,” but she said it burns out really quickly from what’s being seen in the U.K.
The outbreak of new cases is largely among the unvaccinated, but the effects are not isolated to them.
“For those who don’t get the full effect of the vaccine, they can also wind up getting infected because the vaccine is even, like even 90% effective, which means that there are some people who are not going to be protected,” Fauci said.
He expects that boosters will be likely for individuals who are immunosuppressed and those who never got a good response to the vaccine to begin with, such as transplant patients, those on chemotherapy for cancer, or those on immunosuppressive regimens for autoimmune disease.
“If it looks like the immunity in the population of vaccinated people, particularly among the elderly, start to wane. If we see that, then we’ll have to seriously consider boosting, but that’s not in the cards in the immediate future,” Fauci said.
Could there be a vaccine mandate?
The more virus that is present, the greater chance of outbreaks continuing, and Fauci emphasized that more people need to get vaccinated.
Gandhi said that if there’s a lot of the virus circulating, even a vaccinated person can get a mild breakthrough infection — that’s when a fully vaccinated person gets infected with the coronavirus.
“We’re seeing more of these mild, breakthrough infections, cold-like symptoms. And so what (the CDC) is really saying is, ‘OK, mask up inside when you’re around others,’” Gandhi said.
President Joe Biden’s administration is encouraging businesses to follow its lead on incentivizing vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated, The Associated Press reported.
Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply, The Associated Press reported.
Fauci said there is very likely going to be local mandates instead of a central federal mandate that everyone has to get vaccinated.
“I don’t think that’s in the cards,” Fauci said.
He said what could happen, for example, is universities and colleges telling students to be vaccinated if they want to show up to class; or federal, local and state departments requiring employees to be vaccinated if they’re going to come to work.
“I think we’re going see that, kind of, in more than just an incentive, but some sort of really mandate that they would have to do that. Otherwise, if we don’t do that, I don’t think we’re going to reach the point where we can feel safe,” Fauci said.
Gandhi said there is a precedent for requiring vaccinations in the U.S. back in 1905 for smallpox.
“The only way to get through this pandemic is to get eligible adults to take the vaccine. And so you’re going to see more vaccine passport, vaccine-near mandates. And this is going to be happening in this country. And I actually think it’s the right thing because we need to get through this pandemic. Everyone is so tired,” Gandhi said.
WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis, Hilary Howard and Shawn Anderson contributed to this report.