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Littwin: The CDC has told us what the fully vaccinated can do, and, uh, it’s not all that much

With states rushing to end restrictions — not Colorado yet, fortunately — we’re in a race to reach herd immunity, meaning we must incentivize the vaccine hesitant. Got any ideas?


Careful readers — and those who simply heard my shouts of joy — know I have received both vaccinations (from Pfizer, if you’re keeping score at home), and therefore have joined with millions of others in asking that critical question: Now what?

The CDC has finally released guidelines for what you can and cannot do with your two-vaccine status, and let’s just say it’s a little disappointing, in the way that, say, scoring courtside seats for a Nuggets game when fans aren’t allowed in the arena would be a little disappointing. 

Or as Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, wrote in the Washington Post Tuesday, “The guidelines are too timid and too limited, and they fail to tie reopening guidance with vaccination status. As a result, the CDC missed a critical opportunity to incentivize Americans to be vaccinated.”

Mike Littwin

We haven’t had to worry much about so-called vaccine hesitancy because vaccine availability has not yet met demand. But if Joe Biden is right and we’ll have doses for every American adult by May, that will change everything. In the meantime, some states are ending restrictions now, and certain benighted Colorado politicians are calling for the same. We’re in a race to get to herd immunity, and I tend to agree with Dr. Wen when she says we must do more to incentivize as many as possible to get the shots. But what more?

Under the new CDC guidelines for those with two vaccinations, you can hug certain people, like your grandchildren, without masks. You don’t have to go into quarantine if you’ve come in contact with someone who has the virus. You can gather in small groups with those who have also been doubly vaccinated, without masks. That’s basically it. 

And by the way, how do you know your friends and/or acquaintances have actually had the shots? Should we require proof? I do carry around that little card, giving the time, place and form of vaccine I received, but it looks slightly less official than my library card. 

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Then there are the restrictions still in place for the vaccinated, which very closely resemble the restrictions for no-vaccine people, like, you know, not running rampant in Boulder in a mostly mask-free semi-riot, injuring cops along the way, in what may become a super-spreader event, not to mention a huge local embarrassment.

In other words, if you’ve been vaccinated and haven’t been involved in a riot,  your world today may not look that much different from your world before you got the two vaccines. This cannot be right. And I’m not talking about the science. I’m guessing the CDC knows the science — it’s still unclear if those with shots can spread the virus — and is ready to pass along what it knows to the rest of us, particularly now that the Trumpian apparatchiks are off the case.

I didn’t hesitate to get the shots. I’m old and I have a chronic disease and I have a strong desire not to die. That worked for me. 

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But states like Texas have decided they don’t need any restrictions any more — they’re 100% open, in the words of Gov. Greg Abbott — which is basically saying to the nearly 30 million who live in the state, if you’re safe now, why get injected? By the way, unlike Colorado, Texas is a distant trailer in percentage of people vaccinated. It’s also interesting to see just how many Texas businesses are ignoring the governor, relying instead on, well, common sense.

But for those groups where many seem to be vaccine hesitant — especially including white evangelicals and many in the Black community — the new CDC guidelines may not do the trick. 

After getting the two shots, I made the rounds of medical appointments I had either missed or done via Zoom, only to learn that my dental hygienist, who is otherwise terrific, told me she refused the vaccine because she thought it was too dangerous. I pointed out that COVID-19 was quantifiably more dangerous, but that didn’t seem to get us anywhere. In a rare moment of maturity — and realizing the hygienist had sharp instruments at the ready — I just nodded and ended the conversation. But now I’m worried that even with my vaccines, even with the hygienist wearing a high-grade mask, I might have to look around for another dentist.

The question, really, is what is more important right now in battling COVID-19 than getting the vaccine and getting us somewhere near herd immunity.

You want incentives? We could offer, well, a free 6-pack of beer — craft, of course — with a vaccine, or, say, a handful of lottery tickets. We could do what Israel is doing, offering a green passport for those fully vaccinated that allows certain perks, but given the inequity of vaccine distribution in America, that seems just a touch elitist. For me, not having to read another word about the British royals would do the trick.

As Wen points out, we could connect vaccines to travel. If a negative test is required upon takeoff and a quarantine upon arrival, that could all disappear with proof of vaccination. Of course, once you reach your destination, what do you do then? 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

This is not easy. But none of it has been easy. I had a Twitter conversation with a good friend, who was asking why we can’t be told what metrics should be met in Colorado that would end the emergency. The answer is simple, I think. No one knows. The virus mutates. We have had a series of spikes. Many experts say that even with herd immunity, wearing masks indoors would still be recommended. 

I’m told that shaming is the worst way to persuade people to get the vaccines or, for that matter, to wear a mask. If shaming is out, incentivizing has to be in. A full-scale publicity offensive, which we’re told is coming, needs to be in. Or if none of that works, do what I do — beg people, or least those without sharp instruments, to do the right thing for themselves and the rest of us. It couldn’t hurt.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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