Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that, even though more data is emerging showing that people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are less likely to become reinfected and, even if they do, they probably won’t infect others, the data is not yet robust enough to support rolling back recommendations on mask-wearing by those who’ve been vaccinated.
Fauci made the remarks in a March 18 interview on CNN, responding to questions about a tense exchange he had at a Senate hearing earlier in the day with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about mask-wearing. Paul claimed Fauci’s recommendations to continue to wear masks even for people who have already been infected or have taken the vaccine and so have antibodies against COVID-19, amount to “theater.”
At the hearing, Fauci pushed back against Paul’s assertion that it’s just theatrics. He argued that studies cited by Paul in support of robust post-infection immunity against reinfection by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus were too preliminary to change public health guidance and that the antibodies acquired either by earlier infection or a vaccine were not proven to be effective against mutant variants of the virus. Challenges to guidance on continued mask-wearing ignore those facts, Fauci said.
In the interview on CNN, Fauci was asked to respond to the argument that he and other advocates of maintaining strict public health measures are “playing it safe with the science” and that they’re being too conservative with their recommendations.
“Is there any truth to that?” CNN reporter Chris Cuomo asked.
“There’s always a bit of a kernel of truth in what people like Senator Paul say,” Fauci replied.
Fauci then said that data has been coming to light that supports the view that people who’ve been vaccinated not only have a reduced chance of getting ill with COVID-19 and showing symptoms, they are also less likely to get an asymptomatic reinfection and, when they do, they’re less likely to pass the virus on to other people.
“The more data we get, the more we see that if you’re vaccinated, the chances are that you won’t get an asymptomatic infection, or if you do, the level of virus in your nasopharynx will be considerably less, that it is likely you won’t infect anybody,” Fauci said.
“Now, when you accumulate enough data to say, wait a minute, the scientific data tells us now that we can be pretty confident that if you’re vaccinated, that not only would you not get clinical disease, you’re not going to get infected … we’re not there yet,” he said.
“We’re accumulating data, and once we’re there, then the recommendations will change,” he added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on March 8, saying that people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors without masks or social distancing, and that vaccinated and unvaccinated people—provided the latter are in a low-risk category—from the same household can also gather without safety measures. However, in cases where vaccinated and unvaccinated people from different households gather, “all people involved should take precautions including wearing a well-fitted mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and visiting outdoors or in a well-ventilated space,” the CDC says.
Paul, during Thursday’s hearing, objected to the recommendation that vaccinated or post-infection people need to wear masks, citing studies that suggest they’re neither likely to get reinfected themselves nor be asymptomatic spreaders of the virus.
“You’ve been vaccinated and you parade around in two masks for show,” Paul told Fauci. “If you already have immunity, you’re wearing a mask to give comfort to others. You’re not wearing a mask because of any science.”