The head of the National Institutes of Health said Sunday that the new federal guidelines encouraging Americans in COVID-19 hot spots to mask up indoors are “mostly about protecting the unvaccinated.”
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said such mask mandates can help stop the spread of the virus in communities struggling with the recent surge in infections driven by the Delta variant.
“It’s mostly about protecting the unvaccinated — that’s where the real serious risks of illness are,” Collins told CNN anchor Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “If you’re vaccinated right now, your likelihood of getting severely sick is 25-fold reduced.”
While the vaccines are highly protective against severe cases, Collins warned that studies show immunized people can still spread the virus to others, including the immuno-compromised and young children.
Those with compromised immune systems can still be highly vulnerable to the coronavirus even after vaccination, experts say.
“Vaccinated people are capable of getting the virus in their nose and throat, and they do seem to have high enough levels of virus that they might be contagious,” Collins said.
“And hence the reason, if you’re in a community where this virus is spreading, which is about 75 percent of counties right now, it is prudent to put on a mask, even if you’re vaccinated, just in case you might be somebody who’s currently spreading it.”
Collins said it was “good” that some businesses are requiring their employees and customers to show proof of vaccination.
“As a public-health person who wants to see this pandemic end, yes, I think anything we could do to encourage reluctant folks to get vaccinated because they don’t want to be part of these public events, that’s a good thing,” Collins said.
Collins questioned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order that forbids mask mandates at public schools in the state.
“I didn’t understand the ban, and certainly this seems like something local officials want to be able to decide based on their community’s circumstance,” Collins said.
In another interview Sunday, Collins acknowledged that people are “frustrated” by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis but said that masks in schools could help end the pandemic.
The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only one available in the US for kids ages 12 to 17. There is no immunization on the market at this point for anyone younger.
“Delta is as contagious as we now know it is, and we want to try to put an end to what is a very significant uptick right now,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
“Wearing masks, if you’re under 12 and can’t be vaccinated, when you’re [in] school is a really smart thing to do.”