Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that most Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 should feel comfortable going without a mask but noted that everyone should continue to follow guidance from their local health departments.
Walensky's comments came days after an official at the World Health Organization (WHO) urged people who are fully vaccinated to continue to wear masks in the hopes of slowing the spread of the dangerous delta variant.
During an appearance on the Today Show Wednesday, Walensky noted that the WHO makes its recommendations with the whole world in mind.
"Right now, we know as we look across the globe that less than 15% of people around the world have been vaccinated, and many of those people have only received one dose of a two-dose vaccine," Walensky said. "There are places around the world that are surging, and so as the WHO makes those recommendations, they do so in that context."
Walensky added that the U.S. is currently among the world leaders in vaccine distribution and that the CDC made their recommendations within that context.
"Here in the United States, we are fortunate," she said. "We have three vaccines that we know are safe and effective. We have two-thirds of the adult population that is fully vaccinated and really quite protected from the variants we have circulating here in the United States."
However, Walensky clarified that Americans should follow the guidance issued by their city or county health department above all others, noting that some communities have lower vaccinations rates than others.
"We've always said that local policymakers need to make policies for their local environment," she said. "There are areas of this country where about a third of people are vaccinated. They have low vaccination rates, and there are areas that have more disease in the context of not being vaccinated."
She clarified that local health departments bringing back mask recommendations are doing so to protect against the unvaccinated residents in those communities. She noted that those who have been inoculated are safe against the variants currently spreading in the U.S.
She also added that immunocompromised people should "consider their own situation" regarding mask-wearing and social distancing.
During a White House COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated that Americans who are vaccinated should feel safe about going without a mask if their local health departments say it's OK.
Echoing Walensky's comments that the U.S. is far ahead of the rest of the planet in vaccine distribution, Fauci said that local health departments should feel flexible enough to make decisions for their community.
"People on the local level, depending on the on-ground situations, will make recommendations," Fauci said.
In May, the CDC said those who are fully vaccinated could safely go without masks and social distancing. For those people who are unvaccinated, the CDC still recommends face coverings and social distancing.
However, on Friday, the WHO's assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products recommended that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear masks.
"Vaccine alone won't stop the community transmission, and we need to ensure that people follow the public health measures that Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove was speaking (about) today," Dr. Mariângela Simão said. "People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, the physical distance, avoid crowding."
"So, people cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses," Simão added. "They still need to protect themselves."
A handful of local health departments, including the Los Angeles County Department of Health, have issued "strong recommendations" for vaccinated residents to continue wearing masks in recent days as the delta variant continues to spread.
As Delta Variant Circulates, Public Health Recommends Masking Indoors as a Precaution - 3 New Deaths and 259 New Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County.— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) June 29, 2021
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