CDC director, criticized for being too cautious, says fully vaccinated people still need to wear masks indoors to stop dangerous variants spreading

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CDC director, criticized for being too cautious, says fully vaccinated people still need to wear masks indoors to stop dangerous variants spreading
CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyREUTERS
  • Vaccinated people should still wear masks indoors because of circulating COVID-19 variants, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky told CNBC.
  • The CDC has received widespread criticism for its cautious approach to relaxing rules on mask wearing, including outdoors.
  • Updated guidance will follow the CDC's authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds, she said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Wednesday defended the agency's mask guidance amid growing frustration over its cautious approach.

The CDC has been widely criticized for being too cautious in updating its guidance on wearing masks.

Nearly 60% of adults have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC. The agency relaxed some of its rules for fully vaccinated people last month, but still advises wearing masks indoors in most public settings, and in many outdoors places: It has said children should wear masks at all times at summer camps, for example.

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The CDC was "following the science," Walensky said in an interview with CNBC's Shepard Smith.

Smith said there was "widespread frustration" with the changing CDC guidance, and asked: "Has the CDC lost its sort of lofty perch and if so, how do you plan to get it back?"

Walensky said: "These issues are complex, the science is evolving, the science is moving, and we are following the science each and every day and our guidance is evolving as the science evolves."

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Walensky said masks were still advised for people indoors, even if fully vaccinated, because it was not clear if the vaccine worked against COVID-19 variants, or whether vaccinated people were asymptomatic carriers.

Walensky said that CDC guidelines on masks would change again soon, following the agency's approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds on Wednesday.

"I'm really enthusiastic about updating them very soon," Walensky told Smith, but did not say how guidance would change.

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The CDC director described the rollout of the vaccine among 17 million eligible adolescents as a "game changer" for control of the disease.

Public health experts have also criticized the CDC's conservative approach. Dr Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, said that gaining public trust was crucial, because some restrictions may need to be reintroduced in the winter if cases surge.

"The only way to earn public credibility is to demonstrate that you're willing to relax these provisions when a situation improves," Gottlieb said in an interview with CNBC.

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