What's New in COVID-19 Vaccines This Week

CDC's says vaccinees can go maskless in most situations, Yale extends vaccine mandate to faculty and staff, only 1% of the Japanese population is vaccinated with the Olympics two months away, and the meaning of the breakthrough infections among the New York Yankees.

Got vaxxed? Lose the mask.

After the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced that the CDC was now advising that fully vaccinated could go maskless safely in most circumstances (travel is a notable exception), businesses started to loosen their masking rules. Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco and Publix are among the major retailers that are opening up to mask-free shopping for if state and local government rules permit. Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania are the among the states with Democratic governors that started to ease mask requirement after Walensky’s announcement. Many Republican governors had already done so.

Many greeted the CDC announcement with a sigh of relief. Eric Topol, among others, said it was appropriately based on science, particularly on the evidence that the chances of vaccinated people transmitting the virus are very small. But others tossed brickbats. “Just when you think the C.D.C. couldn't mess up mask guidance any more than they already have. (The guidance isn't wrong--it's just confusing, as usual), “ tweeted Tara Parker-Pole, a New York Times health columnist.

Yale imposes vaccine requirement on faculty, staff

Scores of colleges and universities are now requiring students to get vaccinated. But higher education officials have been slower to make vaccination mandatory for faculty and staff. That may be changing. On Friday, Yale President Salovey sent an email saying the mandate will now apply to faculty staff, postdoctoral and postgraduate trainees.

One legal hurdle for vaccine mandates may be that the vaccines that are currently available were OK’d under the FDA’s emergency use authorization powers. None so far have full approval, although Pfizer and its COVID-19 vaccine partner, BioNTech, announced last week that they were starting the process of applying for full-fledged approval.

First OK for young teens

The CDC’s mask guidance gobbled up most of the COVID-19 vaccine news coverage in the later part of the week, but on Monday (May 10), the big news was FDA’s expansion of the Pfizer’s emergency use authorization, so it includes adolescents, ages 12 to 15. The FDA said the OK was based, in part, on efficacy data that show the vaccine is 100% effective in that age group (0 cases among 1,005 vaccinees versus 16 among 978 in a placebo group). 

With Olympics looming, only 1% of the Japanese population is vaccinated

The Summer Olympics are scheduled to start in Tokyo on July 23, but story in Science reports that only 1% of the population is vaccinated. Japan requires studies to be done in Japanese people before vaccines and drugs can be used there and that requirement has slowed down the vaccine rollout, according to the news story that was published on Thursday (May 13). The vaccination rate is also low in Japan because of rules that only doctors and nurses can administer the shots, reported Dennis Normile.

Yankee breakout shows vaccines are working

Earlier this week, a New York Yankees coach tested positive despite being vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. By the end of the week, six more team employees and one star player, Gleyber Torres, the team’s starting shortstop, had tested positive, and all of them had been also vaccinated with the J &J vaccine and Torres had previously had a case of COVID-19.

Experts and nonexperts like weighed in on Twitter and elsewhere. The main takeaways from the experts were that a) the COVID-19 vaccines protect absolutely against SARS-Cov-2 infection but, rather, work to greatly reduce illness, hospitalization and death from the virus (some said “breakthrough infection” is a regrettable term) and b) the fact that only the coach who initially tested positive had symptom was a sign that the vaccine was working.

“Finally, it's also important to remember only 1 Yankee is symptomatic!” tweeted Zachary Binney, an assistant professor of quantitative theory and methods at Emory.. “The vaccines are good at preventing infection and transmission, but they are f'ing RAD at preventing severe disease. They're like a strong wind in from the outfield - HRs become doubles, doubles become outs.”

Up in the air is whether the kind of hypervigilant testing professional sports teams are doing is warranted if players and other team employees are vaccinated