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 Walensky REUTERS
Vaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks indoors because of the circulating COVID-19 variants, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNBC.
The CDC has received widespread criticism for its cautious approach to relaxing the rules for wearing masks, including outdoors.
Updated guidelines will follow the CDC's approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15 year olds, she said.
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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Wednesday defended the agency's mask leadership amid mounting frustration with its cautious approach.
The CDC has been widely criticized for being too careful in updating its guidelines on how to wear masks.
Almost 60% of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the CDC. The agency relaxed some of its rules for fully vaccinated people last month, but continues to recommend wearing masks in most public facilities and many outdoor locations: children should wear masks at all times in summer camps, for example.
The CDC "followed 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 type of high seat and if so how do you plan to get it back?"
Walensky said, "These issues are complex, science evolves, science moves, and we follow science every day, and our leadership evolves as science evolves."
Walensky said masks were still recommended for people indoors, even if they were fully vaccinated, as it was not clear whether the vaccine worked against COVID-19 variants or if people who were vaccinated were asymptomatic carriers.
Walensky said CDC guidelines on masks would change again soon after the agency approved the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds on Wednesday.
"I'm really excited to be updating it very soon," Walensky told Smith, but didn't say how the instructions would change.
The CDC director described the introduction of the vaccine to 17 million eligible teenagers as a "game changer" to fight the disease.
Public health experts have also criticized the CDC's conservative approach. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, said it was crucial to gain the public's trust as some restrictions may need to be reintroduced in the winter if cases increase.
"The only way to gain public credibility is to show that you are ready to relax these regulations when a situation improves," Gottlieb said in an interview with CNBC.
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