People Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Can Mingle Maskless Again

The CDC guidance states that persons past 2 weeks of their final COVID-19 vaccine dose face little risk from unmasked, non-distancing indoor visiting of unvaccinated, low-risk members from a single household.

The first real societal change brought about by the vaccines for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) landed today, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance about masking for people who have been vaccinated. This could be the first step to getting back to normal. The CDC guidance states that persons past 2 weeks of their final COVID-19 vaccine dose face little risk from unmasked, non-distancing indoor visiting of unvaccinated, low-risk members from a single household.

The guidance also states that fully vaccinated people should be able to freely gather indoors, without need for quarantine or post-exposure testing without COVID-19 symptoms present. In this update, viewed by many experts as the beginning of a return to societal normalcy via an increasingly vaccinated population, the CDC noted investigative evidence showing fully vaccinated people are indeed less likely to spread SARS-CoV-2 to others.

Members of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board were cautiously optimistic about the ruling. Sharon Ward Fore, MS, MT(ASCP), CIC, noted that “common sense needs to apply—small means small, not 25 of your closest friends. And vaccinated people still need to remember a large portion of people are still not vaccinated, so when they are out in public, masking and social distancing still apply.”

Linda Spaulding, RN, BC, CIC, CHEC, CHOP, said that while the news from CDC is promising “everyone still needs to be cautious. What is still unknown is how long you may be protected after vaccination because few have had the vaccine onboard for 3 months. And there are variants we don’t know anything about yet. Personally, I would be comfortable hanging out with family who have been fully vaccinated. I’m still leary of hanging out with individuals who have not been vaccinated. It is a personal decision.”

Kevin Kavanagh, MD, said: “Relaxation of adivsements will come as a welcome relief. All are weary of living under public health restrictions. Obtaining both doses for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is essential, since this is what will give protection to the variants. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is single dosage and even with this, its clinical trials demonstrate excellent protection against severe disease caused by the South African variant. The duration of vaccine induced immunity is a concern, especially for effectiveness against the South African and Brazilian variants. Thus, even if you become fully vaccinated, a booster may still be advised in the future.”

In its guidance, the CDC wrote that benefits to reducing social isolation “may outweigh the residual risk of fully vaccinated people becoming ill with COVID-19.”

The guidance additionally reiterated the risks of safe travel and mass gatherings, regardless of vaccination status—a federal advisory which bucks against recent decisions by state legislators to reopen businesses and attractions at full capacity during a recent decrease in new daily COVID-19 cases.

What the guidance essentially comes to provide is a pathway for the most at-risk COVID-19 patients, who were prioritized first for vaccination, to break isolation in a safe and evidenced fashion.

"We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said in releasing the guidance.

As of the end of last week, nearly 10% of the US population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Just how effective the vaccines are against the COVID-19 variants, including the highly infectious B.1.1.7, has not yet been nailed down. “Early data show the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others,” the CDC states. The CDC continues that “we’re still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines keep people from spreading the disease. Early data show that the vaccines may help keep people from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated.”

In addition, fully vaccinated people who “live in a group setting (like a correctional or detention facility or group home) and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still stay away from others for 14 days and get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.”

This article originally appeared in Contagion®.