CDC: We recommend indoor masking for fully vaccinated ... again

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Big mistake, especially since the science and data thus far offer no support for this recommendation. Breakthrough infections, hospitalizations, and deaths represent a vanishingly small risk to the fully vaccinated. And yet, the CDC will recommend urging those who have gotten their vaccines to mask up indoors to counter a spike in cases among those who haven’t — or won’t — get vaccinated:

Reversing a decision made just two months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to recommend on Tuesday that people vaccinated for the coronavirus resume wearing masks indoors in certain areas of the country.

The change follows reports of rising breakthrough infections with the Delta variant of the virus in people who were fully immunized. But the new guidance would mark a sharp turnabout from the agency’s position since May that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor spaces.

As recently as last week, an agency spokesman said that the C.D.C. had no plans to change its guidance, unless there were a significant change in the science. Federal officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence that may have prompted the reversal, CNN reported on Tuesday.

According to the CDC’s own data, 163.1 million people have been fully vaccinated as of today. Hospitalizations have ticked upward in the Delta wave, and deaths have ticked up but at a lower rate. In other words, there’s good reason to be concerned — about the unvaccinated.

However, as CDC director Rochelle Walensky commented earlier this month, this is not a wave among those already immunized against COVID-19. The CDC has tracked 5,601 breakthrough hospitalizations involving immunized patients, and 1,141 deaths as of July 19, when the number of fully immunized was at 161 million-plus. Even those numbers overstate the breakthrough rate, though; around a quarter of each were asymptomatic or unrelated to a COVID-19 infection, meaning that they were hospitalized or died of something else.

Infection is another matter, but even that’s not really germane. The rates of infection among the fully immunized might be much higher, but if they don’t get sick, it doesn’t matter much. We still have little data to suggest that immunized people pass the virus to the unvaccinated. As long as everyone else has the opportunity to get vaccinated, though, that’s really a moot point.

Let’s use the full number for our calculations of the actual risk involved. The hospitalization rate among fully immunized people amounts to 0.35% of the immune; the death rate would be 0.07%. That puts the efficacy of the vaccines at well over 99% against serious illness and death, and that includes data from the current Delta wave. The data does not support the idea that the vaccinated are at any significant special risk for Delta, let alone the question as to whether the masks would be an effective barrier to it.

The CDC risks undermining its credibility in two very clear and very dangerous ways with this move. First, they once again appear to be in the business of social engineering rather than science in ignoring the data they publish on their own. This smells like an attempt to backstop politicians who want to reimpose mandates rather than acting on actual threats. It’s that kind of unscientific social engineering that politicized the CDC over the past 16 months, starting with their manipulative flip-flops on masking in March 2020.

Second and more critically, the new “recommendation” undercuts the argument for vaccination. That in fact was one of the key worries from internal dissenters to this new policy, NBC News reports:

The new guidance comes after an internal debate among health officials: Whether to respond to these findings by simply informing the public about them or by recommending additional restrictions, including a return to uniform indoor masking for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. …

Within the administration there had been concern that a focus on masking could take away a key incentive for people to get vaccinated, which they believe was a factor for many people in choosing to get the shot. Some argued the best way to keep the virus under control was to double down on efforts to get as many vaccinated as possible.

“I understand how challenging this is in terms of the vaccine hesitancy and wanting people to get the vaccine,” said Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and a professor and physician at Georgetown University. “But the Biden administration made a serious error in the first place with their CDC guidance on masks and it is really hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”

While the Covid-19 vaccines have led to a steep decline in new infections, deaths and hospitalizations, multiple studies have found they are less effective against the new delta variant that now accounts for the vast majority of infections in the United States.

Those “multiple studies” are largely not yet peer-reviewed, and they’re also based on narrow lab studies based on portions of immune response (limited to antibody reaction) rather than real-world outcomes. We have tons of real-world data on the efficacy of these vaccines, and their performance has been nothing short of miraculous.

Rather than push the vaccinated into accommodating the unvaccinated, the effort should go the other direction. We have plenty of vaccines now, and they can be accessed on demand. Those who have been vaccinated should not have to adapt themselves to protect those who won’t protect themselves. Otherwise, this formula will lead to perpetual mask mandates, which will get ignored at rapidly increasing rates while demolishing what’s left of the medical establishment’s credibility. And that is sorely needed to get more people vaccinated, which is far more valuable than masks in public areas.

Update: My friend AJ Kaufman at Alpha News wonders what the rationale here is as well:

We’ve been told to do irrational things for our own good and followed the rules; cities shuttered playgrounds, schools, small businesses, major events, and more. People suffered and persevered.

If vaccination works, why do the vaccinated need to be masked? And if we still need to be masked post-vaccine, why would reluctant folks get poked? The vaccinated — now about 70% of eligible Americans — are protected, and the unvaccinated had eight months to decide. This is no way to reach “herd immunity,” and overall, you cannot completely eradicate COVID from existence.

When Mississippi and Texas wisely dropped their mask mandates in March, Biden infamously called the moves “Neanderthal thinking.” Progressive academics and blue-check media essentially predicted a holocaust in these states. Like in Georgia last year, the “experts” were proven wrong. Case numbers dropped in the weeks and months after the smart decisions by Republican governors.

Americans did not contract coronavirus when passing someone on the street or going to school. It was most often in close contact, inside homes that contributed to spread. Bringing back masks in low-risk situations will do nothing to stop COVID from spreading.

It’s great for virtue-signaling, however.