“I am really struggling with how to communicate to people who are worried about politics, and I just want them to continue to be at their family’s dinner table,” Walensky said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
The director, who was named to her post in January, has received criticism from the public and experts alike over the agency’s shifting guidance on masks. Several weeks ago, the CDC reversed a previous recommendation and stated that all people—regardless of whether they’re vaccinated or not—wear masks indoors in high-transmission areas, while saying that all children should wear masks upon returning to school.
In May, the agency eased mask guidelines and stated that vaccinated people don’t necessarily have to wear masks while in public. A number of local officials and businesses then dropped mask mandates.
“There was an enormous pressure for vaccinated people to be able to do things that they wanted to get back to doing,” she said.
Another moment of confusion was when Walensky last week told CNN that vaccines don’t prevent the transmission of COVID-19 at all.
“Our vaccines are working exceptionally well. They continue to work well for Delta with regard to severe illness and death, they prevent it. But what they can’t do anymore is prevent transmission,” she during the interview, which drew critical feedback online. Despite her comments, the CDC still says on its websites that vaccines are an effective bulwark against transmitting the virus, although they aren’t 100 percent effective.
The CDC hasn’t responded to a request for comment on Walensky’s statement.
Later in the Wall Street Journal interview, Walensky noted that as the Biden administration won’t support a vaccine passport system, there was no better way to tell vaccinated people to resume their public activities than rescind the mask recommendation in May. The guidance reversal among other statements to the press, she added, have been misinterpreted.
“I couldn’t actually see a pathway that didn’t lead to an honor system,” she said. “It was never a permission, although it was interpreted that way, for unmasking cities, unmasking jurisdictions.”
On Aug. 11, the CDC issued a recommendation that, based on data it has collected, pregnant women should get vaccinated. The agency said it has found no safety concerns for pregnant women and added that miscarriage rates after vaccination were similar among those who weren’t.