Prepared by Denise Li, Student Research Assistant, Research Center for Epidemic Prevention, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University

Keep your mask on: US CDC reversed the no-mask-for-the-vaccinated recommendation after delta variant outbreak in Massachusetts, USA (30 Jul 2021)

Earlier this month in Barnstable County, MA, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 delta variant. The outbreak involved 469 cases; almost three quarters of the infected individuals are fully vaccinated, according to a report from the US CDC released earlier this week. [1] Delta variant was identified in 90% of more than a hundred specimens sampled. The report has shown that there was no significant difference in the CT value between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated patients in delta variant cases, suggesting fully vaccinated people might be as likely to spread the virus as the unvaccinated.

The report served as an alarming piece of evidence to remind the medical community, as well as the public, the indispensable role of non-pharmaceutical interventions in breaking the chain of transmission amid the pandemic. The US CDC, which once proposed “no mask for the vaccinated” in its guideline back in May 2021,  [2] reversed its decision in late July to encourage fully vaccinated people to wear a mask in indoor settings. [3] Masks and social distancing would remain important in the future battle against COVID-19.

However, good news is that vaccination continues to show its effectiveness in lowering severe symptoms and hospitalization among the infected patients, even for the delta variant. [4] This supported the endemic future of COVID-19 after high vaccination coverage—the virus would continue to circulate but with less danger over time. [5]

While perpetuating the surveillance over SAR-CoV-2 variants and the development of effective vaccines stays pivotal in the coming days, the medical community should not overlook the opportunity to guide the public in understanding the role of vaccination in the pandemic, as the news might be manipulated and stir up anxiety towards vaccination among the public. Despite infections of novel variants, vaccination remains one of the most promising measures to save life and relieve the burden on the healthcare system amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Every vaccination prompts our way to recover.


Lockdown imposed in Queensland, Australia after six cases of the delta variant reported (30 Jul 2021)

Entering July, Australia had one of the lowest numbers of cumulative death and infections around the world. [6] Compared to the rest of the world, the Australians might have enjoyed a little bit more of normalcy, due to its effective border control and quarantine policy. Yet the peaceful time seemed to vanish within a glimpse, as the government of Queensland decided to impose a strict 3-day lockdown after six COVID-19 cases of the delta variant were reported in Brisbane, the state’s capital.

According to a report from the Guardian [7], the 3-day lockdown of the City of Brisbane and its surrounding regions is the strictest ever for the state. Residents in the lockdown area would only be allowed to leave their homes for 4 reasons: to obtain essential goods, to work, to get healthcare services and to exercise. State officials expected this to be a short-term pain for a long-term gain in an attempt to limit the spreading of the highly transmissible delta variant. 

The Australian government has been criticized for its slow rollout of vaccination campaigns, according to another report from the BBC. [8] Indeed, when compared to its Five Eyes peers, the vaccination rate in Australia is significantly lower. Except for New Zealand, which shares a similar situation with Australia, the US, Canada and the UK all have at least half of their population fully vaccinated. In comparison, less than 15% of Australians were fully vaccinated as of 30 July. [9]

The low vaccination rate could be attributed to the lack of incentive since death and infection numbers stayed relatively low in Australia. The problem is not peculiar for other countries—for example Taiwan and New Zealand—which protected themselves in time in the earlier stage of the pandemic. As the world is preparing to open the boarders soon for the hard-hit tourism and the disrupted global events, boosting the vaccination rate is a major challenge for the governments to ensure they will not fall behind in the global recovery from the pandemic.

Around the globe, many creative incentives have taken place in order to encourage the public to get vaccinated. From free donuts [10] to a chance to win an apartment [11], these incentives offered by private companies have shown that efforts from different actors in the society, including health authorities, private companies and non-governmental organizations, are indispensable in our battle against the pandemic. Once again, we are reminded of the importance of collaboration in health promotion and future public health challenges.


Reference

  1. Brown CM, Vostok J, Johnson H, et al. Outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 Infections, Including COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Infections, Associated with Large Public Gatherings — Barnstable County, Massachusetts, July 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 30 July 2021. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7031e2
  2. Matza, Max. “’No Masks for the Vaccinated’: What the Latest US Mask Guidance Means.” BBC News, 20 May 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57160923.
  3. “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html.
  4. Stowe, J., Andrews, N., Gower, C., Gallagher, E., Utsi, L., & Simmons, R. (2021). Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against hospital admission with the Delta (B. 1.617. 2) variant. Public Health England.
  5. Phillips, N. (2021). The coronavirus is here to stay-here’s what that means. Nature590(7846), 382-384.
  6. Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “Australia: Coronavirus Pandemic Country Profile.” Our World in Data, 5 Mar. 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/australia.
  7. Henriques-Gomes, Luke. “Queensland Covid Lockdown: ‘Enormous Number’ of Hotspots Expected after Six New Cases.” The Guardian, 31 July 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/jul/31/queensland-covid-lockdown-enormous-number-of-hotspots-expected-after-six-new-cases.
  8. “Australia Covid: Brisbane Lockdown after Delta Variant Cases.” BBC News, 30 July 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-58039299.
  9. Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “Coronavirus (Covid-19) VACCINATIONS – Statistics and Research.” Our World in Data, 5 Mar. 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations
  10. Dickler, Jessica. Do Vaccine Incentives Work? Krispy Kreme Says Giving Away 1.5 Million Free Doughnuts Has Helped, 1 June 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/01/do-vaccine-incentives-work-krispy-kreme-says-freebies-have-helped.html.
  11. Soo, Zen. “Get a jab, win a condo: Hong Kong tries vaccine incentives.” ABC News, 17 June 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/jab-win-condo-hong-kong-vaccine-incentives-78330532