COMMENTARY

New Guidance for Those Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Santina J. G. Wheat, MD

May 19, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

As has been dominating the headlines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released updated public health guidance for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This guidance was issued on May 13, 2021, and has potentially provided some relief to those who are fully vaccinated, though some are concerned and confused about the implications of this guidance.

Dr Santina Wheat

This new guidance applies to those who are fully vaccinated as indicated by 2 weeks after the second dose in a 2-dose series or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine. Those who meet these criteria no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance themselves from others in both indoor and outdoor settings. For those not fully vaccinated, masking and social distancing should continue to be practiced.

The new guidance indicates that quarantine after a known exposure is no longer necessary.

Unless required by local, state, or territorial health authorities, testing is no longer required following domestic travel for fully vaccinated individuals. A negative test is still required prior to boarding an international flight to the United States and testing 3-5 days after arrival is still recommended. Self-quarantine is no longer required after international travel for fully vaccinated individuals.

The new guidance recommends that individuals who are fully vaccinated not participate in routine screening programs when feasible. Finally, if an individual has tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, that person should isolate and not visit public or private settings for a minimum of ten days.1

Updated Guidance for Health Care Facilities

In addition to changes for the general public in all settings, the CDC updated guidance for health care facilities on April 27, 2021. These updated guidelines allow for communal dining and visitation for fully vaccinated patients and their visitors. The guidelines indicate that fully vaccinated health care personnel (HCP) do not require quarantine after exposure to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 as long as the HCP remains asymptomatic. They should, however, continue to utilize personal protective equipment as previously recommended. HCPs are able to be in break and meeting rooms unmasked if all HCPs are vaccinated.2

There are some important caveats to these updated guidelines. They do not apply to those who have immunocompromising conditions, including those using immunosuppressant agents. They also do not apply to locations where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Those who work or reside in correction or detention facilities and homeless shelters are also still required to test after known exposures. Masking is still required by all travelers on all forms of public transportation into and within the United States.

Most importantly, the guidelines apply only to those who are fully vaccinated. Finally, no vaccine is perfect. As such, anyone who experiences symptoms indicative of COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, should obtain viral testing and isolate themselves from others.1,2

Pros and Cons to New Guidance

Both sets of updated guidelines are a great example of public health guidance that is changing as the evidence is gathered and changes. This guidance is also a welcome encouragement that the vaccines are effective at decreasing transmission of this virus that has upended our world.

These guidelines leave room for change as evidence is gathered on emerging novel variants. There are, however, a few remaining concerns.

My first concern is for those who are not yet able to be vaccinated, including children under the age of 12. For families with members who are not fully vaccinated, they may have first heard the headlines of "you do not have to mask" to then read the fine print that remains. When truly following these guidelines, many social situations in both the public and private setting should still include both masking and social distancing.

There is no clarity on how these guidelines are enforced. Within the guidance, it is clear that individuals’ privacy is of utmost importance. In the absence of knowledge, that means that the assumption should be that all are not yet vaccinated. Unless there is a way to reliably demonstrate vaccination status, it would likely still be safer to assume that there are individuals who are not fully vaccinated within the setting.

Finally, although this is great news surrounding the efficacy of the vaccine, some are concerned that local mask mandates that have already started to be lifted will be completely removed. As there is still a large portion of the population not yet fully vaccinated, it seems premature for local, state, and territorial authorities to lift these mandates.

How to Continue Exercising Caution

With the outstanding concerns, I will continue to mask in settings, particularly indoors, where I do not definitely know that everyone is vaccinated. I will continue to do this to protect my children and my patients who are not yet vaccinated, and my patients who are immunosuppressed for whom we do not yet have enough information.

I will continue to advise my patients to be thoughtful about the risk for themselves and their families as well.

There has been more benefit to these public health measures then just decreased transmission of COVID-19. I hope that this year has reinforced within us the benefits of masking and self-isolation in the cases of any contagious illnesses.

Although I am looking forward to the opportunities to interact in person with more colleagues and friends, I think we should continue to do this with caution and thoughtfulness. We must be prepared for the possibility of vaccines having decreased efficacy against novel variants as well as eventually the possibility of waning immunity. If these should occur, we need to be prepared for additional recommendation changes and tightening of restrictions.

Santina J. G. Wheat, MD, is a family physician at Erie Family Health Center in Chicago. She is program director of Northwestern’s McGaw Family Medicine residency program at Humboldt Park, Chicago. Dr. Wheat serves on the editorial advisory board of Family Practice News. You can contact her at fpnews@mdedge.com.

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, May 13, 2021.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated Healthcare Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations in Response to COVID-19 Vaccination. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 27, 2021.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

Comments

3090D553-9492-4563-8681-AD288FA52ACE
Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as:

processing....