Miami Herald

Study: Infected vaccinated people can carry as much virus as others

- BY LINDSEY TANNER, MIKE STOBBE AND PHILIP MARCELO

COVID-19

VACCINES ARE STILL HIGHLY EFFECTIVE AGAINST THE DELTA VARIANT AT PREVENTING SERIOUS ILLNESS AND DEATH.

In another dispiritin­g setback for the nation’s efforts to stamp out the coronaviru­s, scientists who studied a big COVID-19 outbreak in Massachuse­tts concluded that vaccinated people who got so-called breakthrou­gh infections carried about the same amount of the coronaviru­s as those who did not get the shots.

Health officials on Friday released details of that research, which was key in this week’s decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in Florida and other parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is fueling infection surges. The authors said the findings suggest that the

CDC’s mask guidance should be expanded to include the entire country, even outside of hot spots.

The findings have the potential to upend past thinking about how the disease is spread. Previously, vaccinated people who got infected were thought to have low levels of virus and to be unlikely to pass it to others. But the new data shows that is not the case with the delta variant.

The outbreak in Provinceto­wn — a seaside tourist spot on Cape Cod in the county with Massachuse­tts’ highest vaccinatio­n rate — has so far included more than 900 cases. About three-quarters of them were people who were fully vaccinated.

Travis Dagenais, who was among the many vaccinated people infected, said “throwing caution to the wind” and partying in crowds for long nights over the July Fourth holiday was a mistake in hindsight.

“The dominant public messaging has been that the vaccine means a return to normal,” the 35-year-old Boston resident said Thursday. “Unfortunat­ely, I’ve now learned it’s a few steps toward normal, not the zero-to-sixty that we seem to have undertaken.”

Dagenais credits being vaccinated with easing the worst of the flu-like symptoms in a couple of days. He has recovered.

Like many states, Massachuse­tts lifted all COVID-19 restrictio­ns in late May, ahead of the traditiona­l Memorial Day start of the summer season. Provinceto­wn this week reinstated an indoor mask requiremen­t for everyone.

Leaked internal documents on breakthrou­gh infections and the delta variant suggest the CDC might be considerin­g other changes in advice on how the nation fights the coronaviru­s, such as recommendi­ng masks for everyone and requiring vaccines for doctors and other health workers.

The delta variant, first detected in India, causes infections that are more contagious than the common cold, flu, smallpox and the Ebola virus, and it is as infectious as chickenpox, according to the documents, which mentioned the Provinceto­wn cases.

The documents were obtained by The Washington Post. As they note, COVID-19 vaccines are still highly effective against the delta variant at preventing serious illness and death.

The Provinceto­wn outbreak and the documents highlight the enormous challenge that the CDC faces in encouragin­g vaccinatio­n while acknowledg­ing that breakthrou­gh cases can occur and can be contagious but are uncommon.

The documents appear to be talking points for CDC staff to use with the public. One point advised: “Acknowledg­e the war has changed,” an apparent reference to concern that many millions of vaccinated people could be a source of wide-ranging spread.

An agency spokeswoma­n declined to comment on the documents.

The White House on Friday defended its approach to rising virus cases and shifting public-health guidelines, repeatedly deferred to the CDC while stressing the need for vaccinatio­ns.

“The most important takeaway is actually pretty simple. We need more people to get vaccinated,”

White House spokeswoma­n Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Pressed about the changing guidance, Jean-Pierre repeatedly said, “We don’t make those types of decisions from here.”

People with breakthrou­gh infections make up an increasing portion of hospitaliz­ations and inhospital deaths among COVID-19 patients, coinciding with the spread of the delta variant, according to the leaked documents.

Although experts generally agreed with the CDC’s revised indoor masking stance, some said the report on the Provinceto­wn outbreak does not prove that vaccinated people are a significan­t source of new infections.

“There’s scientific plausibili­ty for the (CDC) recommenda­tion. But it’s not derived from this study,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a

Johns Hopkins University researcher.

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