WASHINGTON — People who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can now spend time together indoors and unmasked, according to new Biden administration guidance.
Fully immunized Americans can also visit with low-risk individuals from other households even if they haven’t yet received a vaccine. And if vaccinated individuals are exposed to Covid-19, there’s no need to either quarantine or get tested for the disease, according to new recommendations released Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in prepared remarks. “There are some activities that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume now in the privacy of their own homes. Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings.”
The CDC considers Americans “fully vaccinated” once two weeks have passed since they received the final dose of their vaccine regimen. In the case of vaccines developed by Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership, which have been authorized for emergency use since December, that means the second of two shots. For the recently authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it means two weeks after a single injection.
Roughly 31 million Americans, or 9.2% of the population, are fully vaccinated, Walensky estimated. But the country’s ongoing vaccination campaign means that number will soon spike. The country is administering over 2 million vaccine doses per day, on average, and President Biden last week promised that the country would have enough supply to vaccinate any adult who wants a vaccine by the end of May.
Drug manufacturers are in the process of dramatically ramping up the production of all three vaccines, and the Biden administration recently announced an unusual partnership through which the drug giant Merck, which failed to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, will help to manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s.
Public health officials have been largely cautious about recommending that people return to relative normalcy even after being vaccinated. Some of their hesitancy has stemmed from fears of “vaccine euphoria,” in which the public abandons Covid-19 mitigation strategies in the wake of good news about vaccine distribution.
Others have expressed fears that while each of the Covid-19 vaccines is highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death, it’s less clear whether they prevent vaccinated individuals from being infected and transmitting the disease to more unvaccinated or otherwise vulnerable people. Recent data from Israel, however, show that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective at reducing transmission.
Walensky, nonetheless, was guarded in her analysis of whether individuals who’ve been vaccinated can resume normal activity.
“We’re still waiting for data to emerge about whether they could transmit that virus to other people,” she said, when asked why vaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks in public.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been particularly cautious. He warned late last month that even fully vaccinated Americans should wait to enjoy indoor restaurant meals or go to movies.
The caution has led some public health experts to fear that the downcast messaging will disincentivize Americans from seeking vaccines by suggesting, effectively, that even fully immunized Americans can’t enjoy pre-pandemic activities.
Walensky said that despite CDC’s guidance on in-person visits, all Americans should avoid large indoor gatherings regardless of vaccination status. Similarly, she said vaccinated people should wear masks and physically distance in other public settings, like a gym.
And she reiterated that the CDC’s guidance on travel has not changed: For the moment, the agency recommends that even fully vaccinated Americans refrain from intercity travel on trains, buses, and airplanes.