Doctors react to new CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people

JOPLIN, Mo. New CDC guidance for people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus could signal a step forward toward the end of the pandemic.

“I think it’s great. It’s a new start,” says Dr. Edan Esguerra, Infectious Disease Specialist at Mercy Hospital.

“I think that it’s definitely on the road to the light at the end of the tunnel,” adds Dr. Rob McNab, head of the COVID unit at Freeman Hospital Joplin.

New guidance from the CDC says people who are fully vaccinated can gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing. It’s the same for fully vaccinated people visiting someone considered low risk for severe COVID-19, such as a healthy child.

You can read more about the new guidance here:

Dr. Esguerra at Mercy Hospital says it’s a good step forward toward getting the country back open and back to normal.

“Everybody’s so anxious to open up, and that’s understandable. It’s a year since we were in lockdown. And so we have to slowly try to get back to normal,” says Dr. Esguerra. “So they are loosening up some restrictions, and this is based on science.”

“I think it’s really important to know when you’re thinking about the major vaccines, what those vaccines are really good at doing is preventing symptomatic disease. But we know these vaccines ability to stop all infections is not 100 percent. So, we’ve prevented these people from having symptoms. And we have slowed down transmission. We know that it’s about 70 to 80 percent that, if you’re vaccinated, that you’re not gonna get the virus and you’re not gonna be able to spread it. But, because the vaccine produces an immune response that kind of protects your system, it doesn’t really protect your sinuses. So it is possible to get virus in your sinuses, produce virus, and then shed that back out but then not really have symptoms,” explains Dr. McNab at Freeman. “So, based off those facts, we can say if you’re vaccinated and I’m vaccinated, it’s gonna be very hard to transmit infection and get it from each other. And if we’re both sharing an asymptomatic infection, well, who cares? That relays a net effect of zero. But if I’m asymptomatically shedding and you’re unprotected that’s still bad.”

Dr. McNab says that may be the logic the CDC used in changing the guidance. The CDC also says residents who have been vaccinated have asked if it means they can stop wearing a mask, when they can see their families again, and when they can get back to normal life. So Dr. McNab feels like it was a balancing act between lightening the load on people dealing with a pandemic that’s drug on for a year, and keeping everyone safe.

But here’s his personal opinion on the change.

“I feel like over the course of the past year, COVID has taught us that you shouldn’t ignore it. Every time we’ve started to become real complacent and relaxed, it’s kind of crept back in. So we’ve kind of been through this routine before. So, my thought would be, and as we’ve talked about before, our goal that we should keep our eye on is herd immunity. Which means 50 to 70 percent of the total population needs to be vaccinated,” says Dr. McNab. “So, we’re lightening up these restrictions not for scientific reasons as much societal issues and… we’ve been at this at a year now. You just can’t do this forever. Personally, if we were only talking about this from a safety perspective, I think continuing on as we have until we reach that herd immunity would probably be the most long term benefit for all of us.”

Dr. McNab reminds residents that the CDC did not lighten guidance for large gatherings, so as St. Patrick’s Day comes, it may be best to keep those gatherings small even if you have been vaccinated.

“Remember, worst case scenario is that a person who’s vaccinated does acquire the virus, sheds it asymptomatically, but because they don’t have symptoms, they’re not paying that much attention to who they’re exposing,” says Dr. McNab. “And so, that’s what the CDC didn’t change. They said, look, large group gatherings is really not something that we would consider safe at this point.”

The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received their last required dose of vaccine. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people get tested if they start to develop symptoms that could be attributed to COVID-19.