White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Sunday that fully vaccinated Americans should “go the extra step” and wear masks when traveling to parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
Fauci, who is also the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “there would be good reason” to wear masks in those areas “because, as we’ve said so often, vaccines are not, even as good as they are and highly effective, 100 percent.
“And if you put yourself in an environment in which you have a high level of viral dynamics and a very low level of vaccine, you might want to go the extra step and say, ‘When I’m in that area where there’s a considerable degree of viral circulation, I might want to go the extra mile to be cautious enough to make sure that I get the extra added level of protection’, even though the vaccines themselves are highly effective,” he added.
“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd had asked Fauci, who was fully vaccinated in January, whether he would wear a mask if he traveled to Mississippi, the state currently with the lowest vaccination rate.
Fauci’s comments were at odds with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who told NBC’s “Today” show June 30 that fully vaccinated Americans are “safe from the variants that are circulating here in the United States.”
Walensky also reiterated that the CDC’s stance remains that fully vaccinated Americans are not obligated to wear masks and added that “masking policies are not to protect the vaccinated, they’re to protect the unvaccinated.”
Fauci himself has a history of inconsistency when it comes to mask-wearing. Emails obtained by Buzzfeed News last month showed Fauci told former Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in February 2020 that “[t]he typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material.”
The NIAID director later changed his tune and mask recommendations and mandates were in effect in many states by the middle of last spring.
In May of this year, Fauci told CBS News that vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outside.
“If you were going into a completely crowded situation where people are essentially falling all over each other, then you wear a mask,” he said at the time. “But any other time, if you’re vaccinated and you’re outside, put aside your mask. You don’t have to wear it.”
About 1,000 counties across the US, many of them in the South and Midwest, have vaccination rates below 30 percent. According to data from the Mayo Clinic, there are four states where fewer than 40 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose: Mississippi, Louisiana, Idaho and Wyoming. The same data shows that in 14 states, fewer than 40 percent of the population is considered fully vaccinated.
Health officials fear low-vaccination states and counties could become new COVID-19 hotspots as the so-called “Delta variant,” first discovered in India, becomes the dominant strain in the US.
However, initial studies have indicated that vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson have all shown effectiveness against variants, including the Delta strain.