On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed controversial comments made by its director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, suggesting that people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus never become infected or transmit the virus to others.
Earlier this week, CDC chief Rochelle Walensky said that “vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick.” However, the health agency clarified the statement Thursday, saying “the evidence isn’t clear” and that Walensky was “speaking broadly.”
“It’s possible that some people who are fully vaccinated could get COVID-19,” a CDC spokesperson told the New York Times. “The evidence isn’t clear whether they can spread the virus to others. We are continuing to evaluate the evidence.”
Confusion about bulletproof immunity could lead to Americans refusing to wear a mask after getting the jabs. According to Dr. Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York,
“This opens the door to the skeptics who think the government is sugarcoating the science,” Bach told the paper.
On Monday, Walensky told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “Our data from the CDC today suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick.”
“And that it’s not just in the clinical trials, it’s also in real-world data,” she added.
That certainly suggested that transmission from vaccinated people might be unlikely, but Dr. Walensky’s comments hinted that protection was complete. “Our data from the C.D.C. today suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick,” she said. “And that it’s not just in the clinical trials, it’s also in real-world data.”
Dr. Walensky went on to emphasize the importance of continuing to wear masks and maintain precautions, even for vaccinated people. Still, the brief comment was widely interpreted as saying that the vaccines offered complete protection against infection or transmission.
In a pandemic that regularly spawns scientific misunderstanding, experts said they were sympathetic to Dr. Walensky and her obvious desire for Americans to continue to take precautions. It was only Monday that she said rising caseloads had left her with a sense of “impending doom.”
Misinterpretation could disrupt the agency’s urgent pleas for immunization, some experts said. As of Wednesday, 30 percent of Americans had received at least one dose of a vaccine and 17 percent were fully immunized.
“There cannot be any daylight between what the research shows — really impressive but incomplete protection — and how it is described,” said Dr. Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“This opens the door to the skeptics who think the government is sugarcoating the science,” Dr. Bach said, “and completely undermines any remaining argument why people should keep wearing masks after being vaccinated.”
All of the coronavirus vaccines are spectacularly successful at preventing serious disease and death from Covid-19, but how well they prevent infection has been less clear.
The research from the C.D.C. on Monday brought the welcome conclusion that the vaccines are also extremely effective at preventing infection. Clinical trials of the vaccines were designed only to assess whether the vaccines prevent serious illness and death.
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