Fauci: We don't have solid science yet on whether vaccinated people can travel so we're winging it

“We’re continuing to issue almost all of the same restrictions for vaccinated people until we’re super extra sure everything is ok” is how Noam Blum summarizes Fauci’s point here, barely exaggerating. Vaccinated people do get to do a few things that the unvaccinated don’t with the CDC’s blessing, like gathering indoors in small groups with each other (or “low-risk” people like grandkids) sans masks, but that’s it. And that caution would be easy to swallow if the CDC had hard data that immunized people are still highly infectious to the unimmunized.

But the data we have right now, although not conclusive, points the other way. The risk of being infected by someone who’s had both shots isn’t zero, but it’s small.

And so once again we return to the unresolvable debate over risk-tolerance. The public-health bureaucracy will continue to endorse maximum risk-aversion until they have what they deem to be irrefutable evidence that vaccinated people are unlikely to transmit the virus to others. They’re worried about another wave driven by more contagious variants crashing down on us right as the vaccine is becoming widely available and don’t want to encourage any behavior that might contribute to that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world will take that under advisement and just do what they want to do regardless.

Note the emphasis on a “multi-step process.” Both Fauci and the White House officials who spoke to Sanjay Gupta a few days ago about this have been keen to stress that the current guidelines for vaccinated people will be relaxed further in the coming weeks and months. They know that encouraging immunized people to socialize again is a way to entice vaccine skeptics into getting their shots too. They just want more data so that they can feel more comfortable with endorsing practices like cross-country travel which could, in theory, seed outbreaks.

But there are two problems. One was identified yesterday by Dr. Leana Wen, namely that the guidance is logically inconsistent.

Unvaccinated people from different households still shouldn’t mingle, the CDC says. That, I agree with. What I take issue with is the CDC’s silence on activities outside the home, such as traveling, attending church services and going to restaurants, for fully vaccinated people. In fact, it says these people should continue the same precautions in these settings as unvaccinated individuals.

This fails the common-sense test. The CDC said nearly a month ago that vaccinated individuals, if asymptomatic, do not need to quarantine or get tested if exposed to someone with covid-19. If risk of infection is so low that even exposure to the virus doesn’t require quarantine, why can’t we say that vaccinated people can resume activities around people who probably don’t have covid-19?

How can a vaccinated person’s infectiousness be high enough to make them too risky to put on a plane but low enough that they don’t need to bother getting tested after close contact with someone who’s infected? This is the problem with Fauci’s “judgment call.” “Judgment” in this case has led them into incoherence.

The second problem is captured by this eye-popping table from Gallup:

Check out the gaping disparity between the hardcore vax resisters and everyone else. It’d be one thing if the CDC’s biggest problem in containing infections was holding down the rational exuberance of vaccinated people to get out there and start living again. In fairness, based on Gallup’s data, those who’ve had their shots *are* less likely to say they’re isolating now and that they’re very worried about COVID than people who haven’t had both shots are. (Which, again, is perfectly rational.) But they’re only marginally less likely. As you can see, the vaccinated are about as scrupulous in avoiding travel right now as those who are less protected. The problem demographic is the anti-vaxxers, most of whom are back to pre-pandemic normal, it seems. (And that’s also rational, sort of. If you’re resigned to not protecting yourself from COVID, there’s no alternative to resuming normal life except isolating forever.) That being so, who exactly are we trying to protect from the small risk of being infected by a vaccinated person on an airplane?

A strident anti-vaxxer? They’re the cohort that’s most likely to be on the plane too, after all. And they seem to have accepted the risk of getting COVID in order to travel — and of transmitting the virus to someone else, more ominously. Why should the vaccinated continue to be asked to limit their freedoms in the name of protecting people who themselves have little interest in protecting others?

I’ll leave you with this in lieu of an exit question, recorded one year ago today. Little did we know.