CDC director: Our data shows vaccinated people don't carry COVID

We’ve been hearing this sotto voce for a few weeks, and we’re also seeing it in data from areas with better delivery of inoculations too. However, CDC director Rochelle Walensky offered it as a conclusion last night in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, noting that this has been confirmed by “real-world data” as well as in clinical trials.

However, Walensky’s overall message was aimed not at promoting a return to normalcy but in extending the restrictions in the US — at least for a little while (via Breitbart and Allahpundit):

“I’m so impressed with our ability to vaccinate at a clip of 3 million vaccinations a day. we have 93 million Americans who have gotten their first dose. 51 million who have gotten their second dose. And we have — we can kind of almost see the end. We’re vaccinating so very fast. 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, but it’s also in real-world data.”

As of today, it’s at 95 million and 52 million, respectively. That’s better than we’ve been in the past and better than almost every nation, but it’s not enough to fully reopen either, Walensky argues in the full clip. Vaccinated people might not pass the virus, but most people aren’t vaccinated yet even with one dose. Reduced restrictions are fueling “hypervariants,” she tells Maddow, when we’re perhaps just a few weeks away from shutting down the pandemic:

“We have so much to look forward to, so much potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now I am scared,” Walensky said during Monday’s White House covid briefing.

Maddow asked Walensky about why she’s warning about “impending doom” with so much “measured optimism” in the country right now.

Walensky said she shares that optimism, given the millions of people being vaccinated every day and how “we can almost see the end.”

However, she is still very concerned about cases going up:

“I’m watching us have increased numbers of hypertransmissible variants. I’m watching our travel numbers tick up, and the sense is, I’ve seen what it looks like to anticipate the oncoming surge. And what I really would hate to have happen is to have another oncoming surge just as we’re reaching towards getting so many more people vaccinated. You know, we’re still losing people at 1,000 deaths a day. And so I just can’t face another surge when there’s so much optimism right at our fingertips.”

True enough, and one would expect the director of the CDC to focus on those concerns. However, part of the reason why this curve might take even longer is because of the mixed messaging coming from Walensky and others in the Biden administration, effectively telling vaccinated people to still restrict their activities and wear masks. If vaccinated people don’t carry the virus, why do they need to restrict themselves in that manner? We should be encouraging the immune to fully re-engage, if for no other reason than to accelerate the economic recovery and provide a clear social incentive to vaccinate.

Of course, the kind of vaccines in use matters greatly, too. The two mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — have definitely demonstrated this effect. There is less data on Johnson & Johnson on this point, but still enough to suggest that it also prevents asymptomatic acquisition and transmission. Immunity so far has been traditional in the sense that it means the virus doesn’t replicate and therefore doesn’t transmit either.

That’s not necessarily the case with other vaccines. NBC News points out that Chile, another country with an impressive vaccination record, nevertheless appears to be entering into another wave of COVID-19 infections. There is one big difference between Chile and the US:

A massive second wave of the coronavirus is gripping Chile, despite a much-lauded vaccination program that is the best in Latin America and one of the top worldwide.

Millions of Chileans like Fernández are returning to full lockdown Thursday after health authorities this week ordered a return to Phase One restrictions. The renewed order means 70 percent of Chile’s 19 million people will be confined to home under tighter measures, such as the removal of permits to visit supermarkets on weekends.

On Saturday, Chile recorded its highest number of daily cases since the beginning of the pandemic, 7,084 new Covid-19 cases, breaking the single-day record of 6,938 reported in June.

However, the vaccine on which Chile relies comes from China:

Delivering around 225,000 doses a day — mostly of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine — Chile has administered nearly 9 million doses so far, equivalent to 47 doses per 100 people, according to the University of Oxford in England. Only Israel and the United Arab Emirates have administered more. By contrast, the second-highest performer in Latin America is Brazil, at 7 doses per 100 people.

Israel has primarily relied on Pfizer, which has published its extensive trial data. The UAE has relied primarily on China, which hasn’t published any of its trial data. As I pointed out a week ago, this has led to very different outcomes in the two countries:

The data strongly suggests that China’s vaccines are not terribly effective at establishing immunity. The UAE is actually ordering up a third dose of China’s vaccines for each of its people in attempting to boost its effects; they might be better off switching to Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J. Chile may need to make that same decision.

This also demonstrates that properly vaccinated people are not vectors for COVID-19. Rather than pretending they represent the same risk, we should start encouraging the vaccinated to get back to normal. They are our best hope in kick-starting the economy, as well as in incentivizing more vaccinations.