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Local health officers urge continued prevention; agree with CDC guidance on fully vaccinated people taking fewer precautions

A CVS Health Pharmacy team member administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Tracey Borges, executive director of Brighton Gardens of Edison, on Dec. 28.

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has recently stated that fully vaccinated individuals can now reduce certain precautions taken in facing the virus.

The CDC made the announcement about the new guidance on March 8. Along with not having to social distance and wear masks with other fully vaccinated people indoors, fully vaccinated people can also visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing; and also do not have to quarantine and get tested following a known exposure if asymptomatic, according to the CDC guidance.

“The Princeton Health Department agrees with the latest guidance from CDC. This is for individuals that are fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or after the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine,” Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser said.

The CDC is still urging that precautions continue to be taken by fully vaccinated people such as wearing a well-fitted mask and physically distancing when in public, avoiding medium sized or larger sized crowds; adhering to prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19; and wearing a mask and physically distancing when visiting unvaccinated people in multiple households.

“The primary reason why CDC is recommending certain things – like people continue wearing masks in public, physically distancing and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces – is because these vaccines are still relatively new,” Grosser said. “There is firm evidence on their ability to reduce and or eliminate severe disease from COVID-19 for vaccinated individuals. And just recently, studies suggest that these vaccines also prevent individuals from spreading the virus to others; guidance will likely start to reflect that.”

He added that it is important to follow the guidance and understand that as vaccinations continue, restrictions will likely be reduced but only if cases continue to decrease.

Montgomery Township’s Health Department, which also provides health services to Pennington and Hopewell Borough, also agrees with guidance if individuals read the whole text.

“Here is the thing that I want people to understand: people are going to see the headlines saying fully vaccinated people can gather. But, here is what we need to be cautious about: using it as justification for a wild spring break, for example,” Montgomery Township Health Officer Stephanie Carey said. “The vaccines are effective at preventing illness and almost 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations.”

The unknown is whether individuals can still get COVID-19 and spread the virus asymptomatically, which is why Carey said she recommends that people continue to wear masks and social distance.

“If you are fortunate enough to have gotten vaccinated that is wonderful and how we start to get back to normal, but we still have 80% of the population that has not been vaccinated yet,” Carey said. “Remember that being fully vaccinated is not the day after your shot it is two weeks after your second shot of Moderna or Pfizer and two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson shot.”

When asked about the specific point of guidance from the CDC stating that fully vaccinated people can gather together indoors and do so without wearing a mask, Carey added that if they are a small group like two or three couples that is what the vaccine is for.

“What worries me and I am already seeing it with people and their spring break plans is that a lot of people are just reading the headlines and throwing caution to the wind. We are headed on a positive path, but we are still worried about variants,” she said. “We do not how fast the variants are spreading and do not know how good the vaccines will be against those variants. There is promising early data, but we take this one step at a time.”

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