CDC Approves Even Less Masking For Vaccinated As Pfizer Shots Begin For 12-15 Year-Olds

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that Americans can safely go mask-free in most settings two weeks after their last vaccine shot.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that Americans can safely go mask-free in most settings two weeks after their last vaccine shot. Screenshot
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has revealed new guidelines on mask-wearing for folks fully vaccinated against COVID-19, namely that the fully vaccinated can go maskless in public and without social distancing from others in all but a few specific settings.

The news came one day after the agency echoed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in recommending that Pfizer’s two-shot coronavirus vaccine could be safely administered to children between the ages of 12 and 15.

In a virtual White House briefing Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced that two weeks after a person receives their final dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines, they can safely quit wearing face masks outdoors in all scenarios, and can even ditch their face masks indoors in most places.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or social distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you have stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Walensky gave the caveats that even fully vaccinated people still need to abide by rules put in place by hospitals and other healthcare providers mandating masks and social distancing, and that “Right now, we still have the requirement to wear masks when you travel on buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, as well as airports and stations.” The recommendation to keep wearing masks when traveling stands for everyone regardless of their vaccination status, Walensky said.

This updated mask guidance was unveiled just over two weeks after the CDC’s last change to its coronavirus guidelines. In that last update, the agency told vaccinated U.S. residents they could safely quit wearing face masks in most outdoor settings as long as they weren’t at large crowded events where social distancing wouldn’t be possible, but still asked the vaccinated to keep masking indoors in most cases.

The CDC’s new masking guidelines line up with the scientific consensus that the coronavirus vaccines have proven so far to be 100 percent effective in preventing death from the virus and dramatically reduce the likelihood of infection, and seem to be designed in part to give folks still hesitant to get vaccinated more of an incentive to change course.

Walensky said the newly lax rules on masks also reflect the evidence that even in the extremely rare cases that a vaccinated person comes down with COVID-19, they are significantly less likely to spread the disease and will be protected from the worst effects of the virus.

On Wednesday, the CDC’s vaccination advisory panel authorized the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds effective immediately, following the same recommendation from the FDA earlier this week.

In Harris County, appointments to get the Pfizer vaccine are now widely available at local pharmacies, and interested kids in that age bracket can be vaccinated at NRG Park without an appointment between noon and 9 p.m. until May 18. Houston Methodist is also offering appointments for the Pfizer vaccine through its website.

State Department of Health Services associate commissioner Imelda Garcia said Wednesday that “While children are less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19, they can be infected with the virus and spread infection in their homes and communities,” which is why “DSHS believes that promptly vaccinating the adolescents in this age group is another valuable tool that will help end the COVID-19 pandemic and have a direct and positive effect on schools and classroom learning.”

Garcia also said that children 12-15 can only be vaccinated with parental consent, given either orally or in writing, but the child’s parent does not need to be present unless required by the vaccine provider.

Walensky said that loosening the country’s mask guidelines even further was only possible “because we have an adequate supply of those vaccines for everyone 12 years and older in this country.”

“This is an exciting and powerful moment,” Walensky said.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards