After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday released new guidelines for what activities people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely resume, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke with WTOP about how confident people can be in the rules and what to expect in the near future.
The CDC guidelines allow people who have been fully vaccinated (defined as being at least two weeks removed from their last shot) to do things such as walk, bike or eat at an outdoor restaurant without masks. Pretty much everything except congregating in large groups of strangers is considered safe, and even then, a mask should protect you, according to the guidelines.
“You can do so many of the things that are common-sense things,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told WTOP. “The only thing we’ll hold back a little bit on is when you go to a gathering that’s an enormous number of people, like a big outdoor stadium where you have thousands and thousands of people. Because even though the risk still is quite low, you know, it gets up there, to be a little bit more risky.”
He said he hopes the new guidelines will encourage more people to get vaccinated: “The more people see that they have an advantage to be vaccinated, we hope that they will realize how important it is — not only for their health and the health of their family and the health of the community, but really for the convenience of doing things that they want to do to get back to normal.”
What about indoors?
There are a lot of indoor activities that fully vaccinated people can confidently resume as long as they also wear masks, such as going to a barbershop, riding public transport with capacity limits or going to the movies.
Dropping mask requirements for indoor activities will take a bit longer, Fauci said: “When you go inside, you’re going to be there in a concentrated place. You don’t know about the ventilation; you don’t know who’s been vaccinated or not; you don’t know who’s infected or not. So even though the risk does remain low, no doubt about it, it certainly is a bit up from being outside.”
The question of when mask mandates for indoor activities can change comes down to two things, the doctor said: “the level of virus dynamics in your community, and the relative number of people that are vaccinated — which, here again, is another reason why it’s important for more and more people to get vaccinated.”
Much of the same holds true for workplaces, Fauci added. Offices might feel more confident in bringing staff back and re-evaluating mask protocols once most people have received a shot and new cases fall considerably. Such decisions, he said, would need to carefully consider the number of people vaccinated in their community, and reflect a “very clear” and persistent signal that transmission rates are low.
And Fauci said people who have been vaccinated can take the CDC’s advice to the bank.
“The CDC guidelines err very much on the side of safety. So when the CDC, in their recommendations, say you can go outside and do this this and this, and they have a big green color there that says it’s really safe, then do it. And don’t worry about it.”
Vaccines for kids
Trials of the COVID-19 vaccines in older children are going well enough that Fauci hopes the age limit for vaccination can be dropped soon.
“By the time we get to the fall term, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to vaccinate kids of high school age,” he said, adding that trials were going on with progressively younger children.
“We just need to know what is the safety issue with children? Is there anything that’s sort of strange or different about kids that make them get more of a problem? … We don’t think that’s the case at all. But when you’re dealing with children, you want to prove it.”
Still, “the projection is, by the time we get to the end of 2021, and the first quarter of 2022, we will likely be able to vaccinate children of any age.”
Johnson & Johnson
The pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine is over, and while it may have caused people to be suspicious of the vaccines — “Whenever people hear about a pause, they understandably say ‘Whoa, wait, what’s going on here?’” — Fauci said he hopes the opposite is true, since the pause came from a literally one-in-a-million side effect that experts were able to pick up on.
“The same exquisitely sensitive surveillance system that picked up those very rare adverse events with J&J was also monitoring the Moderna and the Pfizer,” Fauci said, “and there have been no red flags that have gone up about that. So … if you really want to examine it, it should give people more confidence that we take vaccination very seriously.”
What about the Nats?
Fauci said that even with the new rules, he won’t be showing up at any restaurants, or his beloved Nats Park, any time soon.
“The medical team that President Biden has put together — literally, we’ve been working 24/7 without a minute off. So, I mean, I just love the Nats; I love the park; I love the atmosphere. It makes me relax. I’d love to do it. But I don’t see that happening, at least not pretty soon.”
And reminded of his nearly ubiquitous presence on the airwaves in the past year-plus, Fauci cracked, “Oh, yeah, I’ve planned this ever since I was 13. Right.”
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and Alejandro Alvarez contributed to this report.
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