Public health expert: 'Biden absolutely declared a victory too soon'

Public health expert Leana Wen said that “President BidenJoe BidenBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Biden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Biden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' MORE absolutely declared a victory too soon” in the government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

Wen, a former health commissioner for Baltimore, Md., told Yahoo News in an interview published Saturday that “the single biggest mistake” made by the Biden administration was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision in May to drop its guidance that fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors.

She said that because the CDC’s guidance did not require individuals to prove they had been vaccinated, “the unvaccinated began behaving like they were vaccinated.”

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“And what did we see? We saw exactly what I and many public health experts predicted at the time. The honor code did not work. Surges have happened because of unvaccinated individuals. Now with the Delta variant, restrictions are coming back, except nobody’s listening anymore,” she said.

“President Biden absolutely declared a victory too soon,” Wen continued, adding that she did appreciate the administration’s “exceptional” efforts when it came to vaccine supply and distribution.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Thursday, Wen argued that the CDC needed to clarify its messaging when it came to masks and emphasize that “the problem is the unvaccinated.”

Wen said it made sense to recommend that people mask up if they live with family members who may have compromised immune systems or are unvaccinated given that they could be carriers of the coronavirus. 

But she said that the CDC’s latest guidance issued on Tuesday, which recommends people wear mask indoors in areas with substantial COVID-19 spread, implied that the issue was with risks of COVID-19 transmission among vaccinated populations.

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She noted that CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyCDC director signs off on boosters of Johnson & Johnson, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters CDC panel backs Moderna, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine boosters MORE had already stated unvaccinated populations were mostly responsible for the high rates of transmission.

“The CDC is also trying to urge localities and businesses to reimplement indoor mask requirements given surging coronavirus infections. That’s the right policy, but it’s using the wrong explanation,” Wen wrote in her op-ed. “The vaccinated are not a major source of spread. Even if every vaccinated person puts on a mask, that’s not going to solve things when the vast majority of transmission is by the unvaccinated.”

Instead, she argued that the CDC should have announced, “We need a return to indoor mask mandates not because the vaccinated are suddenly a problem, but because we don’t trust the unvaccinated to voluntarily do the right thing.”

When asked by Yahoo News if the U.S. should start mandating the vaccine, she maintained that previous mandates have worked with other diseases and could help in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“We know that vaccine mandates work for other childhood immunizations. We have laws in all 50 states that mandate vaccines. That's the reason why we don't have polio, why we don't have smallpox, why we have relegated many of these illnesses that used to kill so many children to the history books. We could do the same with COVID-19,” Wen said.