In another daunting setback to the nation’s efforts to eradicate the coronavirus, scientists studying a large COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts concluded that vaccinated people who got what were known as breakthrough infections were getting roughly the same amount of the coronavirus in like those who didn’t get the shots.
Health officials on Friday announced details of this research, which was pivotal in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision this week to recommend that vaccinated people in parts of the United States return to masks in which the Delta variant is fueling flare-ups . The authors said the results suggest that the CDC’s mask guidelines should be extended to the entire country, including outside hot spots.
The results have the potential to change previous thinking about the spread of the disease. Previously, vaccinated people who became infected were thought to have low levels of the virus and are unlikely to be passed on to others. But the new data shows that this is not the case with the delta variant.
The outbreak in Provincetown – a seaside tourist destination on Cape Cod in the county with the highest vaccination rate in Massachusetts – has spanned more than 900 cases to date. About three quarters of them were fully vaccinated.
Travis Dagenais, who was among the many infected people vaccinated, said “Throw caution to the wind” and partying long nights en masse during the July 4th holidays was, in hindsight, a mistake.
“The prevailing public message was that the vaccine was a return to normal.” said the 35-year-old Boston resident on Thursday. “Unfortunately, I’ve now learned that it’s a few steps toward normalcy, not the zero-to-sixty that we seem to have taken.”
Dagenais reckons the vaccination will have relieved the worst flu-like symptoms in a few days. He has recovered.
Like many states, Massachusetts lifted all COVID-19 restrictions in late May before the traditional Memorial Day summer season began. Provincetown reintroduced indoor masking requirements for everyone this week.
Leaked internal documents on breakthrough infections and the Delta variant suggest the CDC may consider other changes to advice on how to fight the coronavirus, such as:
First discovered in India, the Delta variant causes infections more contagious than the common cold, flu, smallpox and the Ebola virus, and according to the documents mentioning the Provincetown cases, it is as contagious as chickenpox.
The documents were obtained from the Washington Post. As they note, COVID-19 vaccines are still highly effective against the Delta variant in preventing serious illness and death.
The Provincetown outbreak and documents underscore the tremendous challenge the CDC is facing in promoting vaccination, while recognizing that breakthrough cases can occur and can be contagious, but rare.
The documents appear to be conversation pieces for CDC staff to use with the public. Guessed one point: “Acknowledge that the war has changed” an obvious indication of the growing concern that many millions of vaccinated people could be a source of widespread dissemination.
A spokeswoman for the authority did not want to comment on the documents.
The White House on Friday defended its approach to rising virus cases and the public health policy change that has repeatedly been pushed back to the CDC while highlighting the need for vaccinations.
“The most important takeaway items are actually pretty simple. We need more people to get vaccinated “, That said the spokeswoman for the White House, Karine Jean-Pierre.
Urged by the changing leadership, Jean-Pierre said repeatedly: “We don’t make such decisions from here.”
People with breakthrough infections are making up an increasing proportion of hospitalizations and hospital deaths in COVID-19 patients, which coincides with the spread of the Delta variant, the leaked documents said.
Although experts generally agreed with the CDC’s revised stance on indoor masking, some said the Provincetown outbreak report did not prove that vaccinated people were a significant source of new infections.
“The (CDC) recommendation is scientifically plausible. But it is not derived from this study. “ said Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
The CDC report is based on approximately 470 COVID-19 cases related to the Provincetown festivities, which included crowded indoor and outdoor vacation events in bars, restaurants, guest houses and rental apartments.
The researchers ran tests on some of them and found roughly the same virus levels in those who were fully vaccinated and those who were not.
Three quarters of the infections occurred in people who were fully vaccinated. Of those fully vaccinated, around 80% had symptoms, with the most common symptoms being cough, headache, sore throat, muscle pain and fever.
Dagenais said he felt sick the night he returned home, initially attributing it to long nights of partying in crowded Provincetown nightclubs.
But as the days went by and the fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue set in, he knew it was more.
In the report, the measures used by researchers to assess the amount of virus in an infected person give no indication of whether they are actually passing the virus on to other people, said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan.
CDC officials say more data is coming. They are following groundbreaking cases in much larger studies that track tens of thousands of vaccinated and unvaccinated people across the country over time.
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