The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has yet again updated its policies in relation to COVID-19. The agency is now reporting people who have been fully vaccinated can skip future COVID-19 testing.
The CDC said recently that most people who have received the full course of shots and have no COVID-19 symptoms don’t need to be screened for the virus, even if exposed to someone infected.
The change represents a new phase in the epidemic after nearly a year in which testing was the primary weapon against the virus. Vaccines are now central to the response and have driven down hospitalizations and deaths dramatically.
Experts say the CDC guidance reflects a new reality in which nearly half of Americans have received at least one shot and close to 40 percent are fully vaccinated.
“At this point we really should be asking ourselves whether the benefits of testing outweigh the costs — which are lots of disruptions, lots of confusion and very little clinical or public health benefit,” said Dr. A. David Paltiel of Yale’s School of Public Health, who championed widespread testing at colleges last year.
While vaccinated people can still catch the virus, they face little risk of serious illness from it. And positive test results can lead to what many experts now say are unnecessary worry and interruptions at work, home and school, such as quarantines and shutdowns.
Other health specialists say the CDC’s abrupt changes on the need for masks and testing have sent the message that COVID-19 is no longer a major threat, even as the U.S. reports daily case counts of nearly 30,000.
“The average Joe Public is interpreting what the CDC is saying as ‘This is done. It’s over,’” said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University, a leading advocate of widespread, rapid testing.
With more than 60 percent of Americans still not fully vaccinated, he thinks screening of those without symptoms still has a role, particularly among front-line workers who have to deal with the public.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the updated guidelines are based on studies showing the robust effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing disease in various age groups and settings.
Even when vaccinated people do contract COVID-19, their infections tend to be milder, shorter and less likely to spread to others.
As a result, the CDC says vaccinated people can generally be excluded from routine workplace screening for COVID-19.
This change could eliminate testing problems like the one recently reported by the New York Yankees, when one player and several staffers tested positive on a highly sensitive COVID-19 test, despite being vaccinated.
Extensive efforts to abandon testing for vaccinated people could face the same issues seen by the CDC’s new guidelines on masks (fully vaccinated people do not have to wear them) simply put there is no surefire way to figure out who has or has not been vaccinated.
Legally employees can require vaccinations for most workers, albeit very few have pursued this, since vaccines haven’t met full regulatory approval.
At present, even asking employees to disclose if they are fully vaccinated is viewed as invasive by many workplace lawyers and Human Resources personnel.
Currently, CDC guidelines do still encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and to use their own discretion while interacting with others.