ST. LOUIS • Dr. Alex Garza, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force commander, shared some of the new CDC guidelines regarding vaccinated people being able to meet in person, signifying a major turning point in the health crisis that has kept the world hostage for over a year with stay-at-home orders, business restrictions and mask mandates.
Garza has been the guiding health care expert for the pandemic in the St. Louis region, updating the tally of rising cases and frequently being a voice of reason during periods of dissent ever since the first cases began to appear in March 2020.
“I think that the CDC is trying to balance more freedoms while still maintaining some vigilance,” Garza told MetroSTL.com about the new guidelines.
“So, if you are fully vaccinated, and you are around people that are fully vaccinated, then the CDC is saying, you don’t need to practice all those mitigation strategies,” he added.
As more and more Americans receive the vaccine, the CDC has issued some new guidelines about how people will be able to congregate in person after they receive the vaccine.
Mask and social distancing guidelines remain in place. But people who have received their full vaccinations and wait the required two weeks for the inoculation to take effect will be able to meet in person inside common spaces. For now, the recommendation is to keep the groups small and within the circle of family and close friends. As more people become vaccinated, social gatherings such as concerts and events will be less frowned upon by the health authorities, and summer may be much different than it was last year.
The change in tone comes after the approved vaccines began distribution some five weeks ago.
“So more of those people [in vulnerable populations] are becoming vaccinated. So they’re not ending up in the hospital, they’re not ending up in our intensive care units. And they’re not dying from the disease,” Garza explained.
About the rollout of the vaccine in our region, Garza stated that maintaining certain mitigation strategies would still be necessary to protect the most vulnerable yet to be vaccinated. That will take time.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the impact that [the vaccine] has had … in addition to those mitigation strategies. So wearing masks, socially distancing, not gathering in groups, … the vaccine, has had a tremendous impact. And it will continue to play out over the next course of many months.” he added.
The measures that helped slow the spread of COVID-19 will still help keep people healthy from some of the more aggressive viral variants out there. The shot, however, should help reduce the viral load for those already inoculated, so the risk of severe illness or loss of life is less likely.
“Most of the research that has come out says, even though it doesn’t perform as well against those variants, there still is some level of protection,” Garza said. “So even though you may become ill, there’s still a level of protection.”
With several vaccine options out there, some may wonder if they can receive a cross-combination of injections. The region has received some of all three approved vaccines: Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Some people have received a shot of one and a booster from another, something that Garza said should be avoided if and when possible.
“The CDC is allowing that, but they really want it to be, you know, an exception rather than the rule,” Garza warned. “So if somebody says they got their original dose in California or something like that and then moved suddenly to Missouri, could they get the Pfizer dose? The CDC does allow that, although they don’t recommend it.”
President Joe Biden has said that the production of the vaccines should be at a point by the end of May at which every American who wants one will be able to receive it. The delivery process has proven to be very slow in the past month, but efforts are ramping up, making the timeline at least possible.
But Garza warned against thinking our troubles will be over in May.
“The way that I typically answer that is, you know, I’m from Missouri, I was born and raised here. And so you’ve got to show me,” he said. “Now, the thing that we have to understand is, if the president is saying that there’ll be enough vaccine manufactured by May to be available to every citizen 18 years and older in the United States, that’s a much different proposition than saying, ‘and we will have it delivered and we will have it in the arms of everybody, by May,; because that’s a huge logistics lift.”
“I do believe that production capacity is going to be increased enough so that we can have enough vaccine available,” Garza agreed. “It still will take time for delivery and then for vaccination, because that is the time-consuming part, getting needles into arms.
“I do think, though, given all of that, by end of summer, you know, mid-fall, most people that do want a vaccine should be able to have access to vaccine and be vaccinated.”