It’s a question we have been dealing with for close to three months now: What was the point of the vaccine if I am not able to resume my regular life once I am two weeks past my final dose?
These questions have been lionized by the political Right in order to push their talking point that the government in power wants to be able to control you for as long as possible. Let me be the one to tell you that this is not true. If we want to have any semblance of a country when we come out of this, we have to accept one defining principle: Regardless of which side of the aisle you may find yourself, your opponents want what they think is best for the country. There isn’t a nefarious cabal on either side planning for the utter destruction of whatever it is you hold dear. So the Left isn’t trying to take away all of your rights and the Right isn’t trying to murder you to save the economy. If we understand these principles, we can move forward with this conversation. If you truly and honestly believe this about either side, then there is really no point in having this conversation. For the rest of you, I’d like to take some time in going through some of the CDC’s recommendations as they stand at the time of writing and try to figure out why they exist.
Firstly, the CDC lists several activities that vaccinated people can do:
Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
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
Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic
Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
I know there are some people out there who didn’t wait for the vaccine to begin to do these activities. I know there are even some people out there who never stopped doing some of these activities. And I will save my comments for those people until the end, and you will soon see why.
Then the CDC lists the other activities that vaccinated people should continue to do. For the sake of brevity, I will only list the items that need to be discussed here. For the full list, please see the CDC’s website.
Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
If you are just to read these guidelines, you may think that the risk of not following these guidelines is on the individuals who are vaccinated, but all you would have to do to find out this is not the case is scroll down on the page to the explanations for each recommendation. For instance, when it comes to visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households, the CDC makes it clear that the risk is to the unvaccinated households, not the vaccinated individuals. “If the unvaccinated people come from multiple households, there is a higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission among them. Therefore, all people involved should take precautions including wearing a well-fitted mask, staying at least six feet away from others, and visiting outdoors or in a well-ventilated space.”
The CDC is admitting that vaccinated people are not at a significant risk for catching or spreading the virus, but only have to be careful around multiple unvaccinated families. They have to avoid large- or medium-sized gatherings, not because they are at risk, but because they don’t want to endorse large gatherings happening at all. The CDC is being unambiguous in their recommendations, which doesn’t stop outlets like The Hill from explaining that the actual reason for vaccinated people to continue to wear masks and socially distance is that “vaccinated people can still get infected and potentially pass the virus to others.” The chances of that are very small and fly directly in the face of the information being disseminated by the CDC itself. In fact, the CDC recommends that “fully vaccinated people with no COVID-like symptoms do not need to quarantine or be tested following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, as their risk of infection is low.” That does not sound like they are concerned about transmission post-vaccination.
So why is the CDC so concerned about vaccinated people hanging out in groups or with multiple unvaccinated households? I believe there are two answers. First, the CDC is afraid that people will overreact to the “endorsement” of group gatherings and will just get together regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. Secondly, and more crucially, they are afraid of people lying about their vaccination status to be able to return to society. According to statistics guru Nate Silver, 54% of vaccinated people are worried about getting COVID, while only 29% of those who refuse to vaccinate are worried. So it would follow that those of you out there who were part of that group I mentioned earlier who never stopped your pre-COVID behavior would be more likely to claim to be vaccinated to return to society. Therefore, the CDC just decided that everyone would have to behave as if they were not vaccinated in public until we reach herd immunity, which can’t actually happen until children are eligible for the vaccine.
If you don’t think the CDC would never issue a guideline because they are afraid of how a minority of people would react, please remember at the beginning of COVID when the recommendation was not to wear masks, out of fear people would buy up all the masks and leave none for medical professionals. These guidelines carry the unintended consequence of making people less likely to get the vaccine. After all, if receiving the vaccine does not allow the individual to return to society, what is the point in getting it? This simple issue is the reason the vaccinated population is not higher than it is. But as I mentioned at the beginning, this is not a power grab by the CDC. They are not trying to control your lives by purposefully leaving out information. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they choose to leave out some reasons for their policies, they will be accused of withholding information. If they choose to tell the reasons, they are risking certain members of society behaving in bad faith. So they chose the last option. Everyone must behave as if they are not vaccinated.
On March 10, President Biden told us that we have to hang on just a little bit longer. “There is light at the end of this dark tunnel,” he said. We have to hold on just a little bit longer. That came exactly one year after Purim 2020, the day that for most of us, this nightmare began. I do believe that we will not see a world where the CDC removes all COVID restrictions until March 10, 2022 if enough people do not get vaccinated when given the chance - and that would be unacceptable. I sincerely hope I am wrong. Only time will tell.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.