The day some said would never come

Getting vaccinated means you can put away your mask

Some said it would never happen. Some said it would be another year. But they were wrong. It did happen and yesterday was the day.

For the past year, I’ve heard many people say that mask mandates were here to stay. Others said that it would be months, maybe the end of this year, before the mask guidelines were lifted. But on Thursday, those pessimistic predictions proved wrong as the CDC updated its guidance to acknowledge that it is safe for people who have been fully vaccinated to put away their masks.

The top lines of the new CDC guidance say:

  • If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.

  • Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

  • If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, find a vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the focal point of anti-mask anger, said that he is “very much in favor” of the new guidelines, telling NBC News that vaccinated people are “quite safe” indoors. Fauci cited “real-world data that has accumulated” as a reason for the change.

“We have had now a substantial diminution in the number of daily cases on a seven-day average by about one-third over the last couple of weeks,” Fauci told Lester Holt. “There have been papers that have come out that have shown the extraordinary real-world efficacy of the vaccine in every level, at every age, and in every circumstance.”

Fauci said that data over the past few weeks confirmed “this is a vaccine that works really, really well and we are seeing the results of substantial diminution in the number of cases. That triggered the decision by the CDC.”

If you’ve been subject to a mask mandate or following the guidelines voluntarily, this is good news. While it may take a while for local and state mask mandates to be rescinded, just over a year after masks became the world’s most common fashion accessory, they are now clearly on the way out.

If you’re one of the people who thought that mask requirements would never go away, you might want to re-examine your other beliefs as well. There was never any possibility that masks were here to stay… and no valid reason why any level of government would make people wear them longer than necessary. If you’ve been watching or listening to people who told you that masks would be a permanent fixture, you need to start following people who won’t lie to you or try to scare you into submission.

More good news is that the CDC’s findings are a confirmation of the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, vaccines that many people thought were impossible just a few short months ago since there were no approved vaccines for any Coronavirus before last year.

The vaccines work on several different levels, making it dramatically less likely that a vaccinated person will become infected with COVID-19 and less likely that they will become seriously ill if they do get infected. Vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the virus to others who may not be vaccinated.

At this point, the vaccines have been studied extensively. Studies now show that the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are 90 percent effective two weeks after the second dose while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown to be 85 percent effective. A study in Israel of vaccine effectiveness resulted in no COVID deaths at all among vaccinated participants.

In fact, most of the time spent since January 2020 was in testing the vaccines. New York Magazine reported that the Moderna vaccine was designed in one weekend, only two days after the genetic sequence of the virus was made public. The technology for the vaccine was already there, but the drugs had to be extensively tested to ensure their safety.

And the vaccines are safe, although “safe” does not mean “risk-free.” Complications do occur, including some instances of blood clots that led to a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April, but problems are exceedingly rare.

For example, a January report showed 7,844 “adverse events” including 181 deaths, but at that point, there had already been more than 10 million doses administered. That works out to 0.0007403 events per dose, far less than one percent. In terms of deaths, the share is 0.000017. And not all every incident or death can be attributed to the vaccines.

As for Johnson & Johnson, Steve Berman pointed out several weeks ago that the number of women who had blood clots was in the single digits while the number of vaccines administered was in the millions. A CNN analysis showed that the risk of dying from COVID-19 is 40 times higher than that of developing a blood clot. Among the people who have safely had the J&J jab are Steve, my wife, and me.

Nothing is absolutely safe, and there is always a question of risks versus rewards. Many of the people who have minimized the risk of COVID-19 are the same ones who are most afraid of vaccine complications. Ironically, many of these people were all-in on “miracle” drugs like hydroxychloroquine. This may be the result of misinformation or it may be a result of not understanding the risks associated with not getting vaccinated. In reality, the vaccines present an infinitesimally smaller risk than the virus.

Further underscoring the safety of the vaccines is the fact that this week the CDC approved the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12 and new studies found that neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines were linked to any complications when administered to pregnant women. My two children received their first doses this week and neither had any ill effects.

There are still a couple of questions to be resolved about vaccines and going maskless, however. One is how long it will take states and municipalities to codify the new CDC guidelines.

A second is how the new guidelines will be enforced. Will stores and organizations be allowed to ask for proof of vaccination if customers don’t wear masks? Can schools and employers require students and employees to get the vaccine? How does HIPAA apply? What if someone presents a fake vaccination card and then infects others? Many of the answers to these and other questions will vary by state. Many will be settled by courts.

The pandemic and the emergency are not yet over, but the end is in sight. If you want to hasten the end of the viral emergency and speed the return to normal, go get vaccinated.

Just do it.

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