Story at-a-glance:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) warned there is no guarantee thatCOVID-19vaccines will prevent people from being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and transmitting it to other people.
  • Vaccinated persons still need to mask and social distance because they could be able to spread the new coronavirus to others without knowing it, according to WHO and U.S. health officials.
  • As with measles and polio, there is no guarantee of eliminating the SARS-CoV-2 virus through mass vaccination programs.
  • There is a possibility the U.S. government will introduce “COVID-19 vaccine passports” and that some local governments and businesses will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory, including in schools.
  • Technology companies have been working on creating a digital certificate, which contains personal medical information giving evidence that an individual has been vaccinated and which can be used as a screening tool by employers and businesses.

At a virtual press conference held by the WHO Dec. 28, 2020, officials warned there is no guarantee that COVID-19 vaccines will prevent people from being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and transmitting it to other people.

In a New Year’s Day interview with Newsweek, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,reinforced the WHO’s admission that health officials do not know ifCOVID-19vaccines prevent infection or if people can spread the virus to others after getting vaccinated.

According to U.S. and WHO health officials, vaccinated persons still need to mask and social distance because they could be able to spread the new coronavirus to others without knowing it.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization in December 2020 for Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to release their experimental mRNA vaccines for use in the U.S., the companies only provided evidence from clinical trials to demonstrate that, compared to unvaccinated trial participants, their vaccines prevented more mild to severeCOVID-19 disease symptoms in vaccinated participants.

The companies did not investigate whether the vaccines prevent people from becoming asymptomatically infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and/or transmitting it to other people.

COVID-19 vaccines designed to prevent severe disease

According to WHO officials, while it appears the vaccines can prevent clinically symptomatic COVID-19 clinical disease, there is no clear evidenceCOVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing asymptomatic infection and transmission. During the press conference, WHO chief scientist and pediatrician Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said:

“We continue to wait for more results from the vaccine trials to really understand whether the vaccines, apart from preventing symptomatic disease and severe disease and deaths, whether they’re also going to reduce infection or prevent people from getting infected with the virus, then from passing it on or transmitting it to other people.

I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on.”

Swaminathan said the COVID-19 vaccine was designed to first prevent symptomatic disease, severe disease and deaths. Dr. Mark Ryan, MPH, who is executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program ,agreed with Swaminathan and added:

“So the first primary objective is to decrease the impact the disease is having on people’s lives and, therefore, that will be a major step forward in bringing the world back to some kind of normal.

The second phase is then looking at how will this vaccine affect transmission. We just don’t know enough yet about length of protection and other things to be absolutely able to predict that, but we should be able to get good control of the virus.”

SARS-CoV-2 eradication via mass vaccination is a ‘moonshot’

Ryan also pointed out that the decision by WHO to try to eradicate the SARS-CoV-2 virus “requires a much higher degree of efficiency and effectiveness in the vaccination program and the other control measures” and that it is likely the new coronavirus will “become another endemic virus, a virus that will remain somewhat of a threat but a very low level threat in the context of an effective vaccination program.”

Ryan cautioned that, like with measles and polio, there is no guarantee of eliminating the SARS-CoV-2 virus through mass vaccination programs. He said:

“The existence of a vaccine even at high efficacy is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease. That’s a very high bar for us to be able to get over. First, we have to focus on saving lives, getting good control of this epidemic, and then we will deal with the moonshot of potentially being able to eliminate or eradicate this virus.”

Azar says get vaccinated but still mask up

In a Dec. 22, 2020 interview, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News that the current “consensus” among health officials is that people who get two doses of COVID-19 vaccine should still mask up and practice social distancing.He said:

“We’re still studying some fundamental scientific questions though, such as, once you’ve been vaccinated, do you still need to wear a mask to protect others, could you still be carrying the virus even though you’re protected from it …

“If you’re getting vaccinated right now, still social distance, still wear a mask, but all these [recommendations] have to be data and science-driven, so we’re working to generate the data there so that as we go forward, we’ll be able to advise people on a foundation of data.”

COVID-19 vaccine passports and mandates may be coming

In an interview on CNN in early April 2020 when most states were in some form of a coronavirus lockdown,Fauci told Alyson Camerota, “It’s very likely that there are a large number of people out there that have been infected, have been asymptomatic, and did not know they were infected.”

Eight months later, on New Year’s Day 2021,Fauci told Newsweekthat in his role as the new administration’s chief medical adviser, there is a possibility the federal government will eventually introduce “COVID-19 vaccine passports” and that some city, county or state governments and businesses will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory, including in schools.

“Everything will be on the table,” Fauci declared. A week earlier,Fauci told The New York Timesthat between 70% and 90% of the U.S. population would need to get COVID-19 vaccinations in order for the country to reach vaccine-acquired herd immunity. He explained why he has continued to shift the “herd immunity” goal post over the past year:

“When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent. Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85 … We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But, I’m not going to say 90 percent.”