Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans, led by Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), sent a letter Thursday to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle P. Walensky on the CDC’s reversal of its guidance on mask-wearing for vaccinated individuals.
The members are worried that such guidance is undermining the American peoples’ confidence in the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and is undermining trust in public health, especially for parents trying to make the best decisions for their children.
“While it is clear the Delta variant has a higher reproductive rate—on average one person infects seven people instead of two people from earlier versions of the virus—we have concerns with the CDC’s recent mask guidance. We are particularly concerned with how the CDC put case reports and data in context, whether the CDC is considering other data that may suggest vaccinated people do not present the same transmissibility risk after infection as unvaccinated people, and that the CDC is apparently ignoring other considerations relevant to children.
“COVID-19 and the new Delta variant present significant health challenges for our country, but it is incumbent upon us to ensure public health decisions are made based on science and data, not fear.”
The members then point to a few key issues that must be raised when issuing new guidance on wearing masks:
- It is not clear that infected vaccinated people present the same risk to transmissibility as unvaccinated people. For example, data from Israel suggests that vaccinated people are not transmitting infections at the same rate as vaccinated people. The Director of Israel’s Public Health Services noted that vaccinated individuals in Israel have a 50 percent lower chance to infect others compared to unvaccinated people. Also, recent evidence suggests the ability of infected vaccinated individuals to spread the virus diminishes more quickly than unvaccinated people and thus are less likely to be contagious.
- Some of the data the CDC is relying on appears to be insufficient or altogether irrelevant. On May 1, 2021, the CDC stopped counting all breakthrough cases, which has widely been criticized by health experts, and which may result in decisions being made without sufficient data. The CDC apparently relied on a non-peer reviewed study from India, where vaccines that have not been authorized in the U.S. are used, as part of its basis to revise mask guidance.
- The CDC’s mask mandate appears unnecessary for young children and, overall, may impact their learning and psychosocial development. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends against children under the age of 5 from masking because of “the safety and overall interest of the child” and for children aged 6-11, the WHO advises that masking decisions should consider many factors such as the ability of the child to safely and appropriately use a mask and the potential impact that mask-wearing has on learning and psychosocial development. Additionally, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommends mask use when feasible only for children over the age of 12. Young children not only are at low risk for developing COVID-19 but also do not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 while attending school, according to a recent study recently in the Journal of American Medical Association. Concerns have been raised about the impact of masking on children’s mental health. Masking also interferes with children learning facial expressions that are integral to human connection, and can result in anxiety and depression.
Finally, Dr. Walensky is asked to respond to a series of questions by September 15, 2021. Key Questions include:
- Does the CDC have the Israeli data on the lower rate of transmissibility by vaccinated individuals? If so, did the CDC take this data into account during the revision of the mask guidance and, if so, what factor did it play? If not, why not?
- Does the CDC have evidence that the transmissibility of infected, vaccinated people diminishes more quickly than unvaccinated, infected people? If so, did the CDC take this evidence into account during the revision of the mask guidance? If not, why not?
- Does the CDC agree that testing of breakthrough cases needs to be expanded outside of hospitalized cases? If so, what actions will CDC take to expand such testing? If not, why not?
- Please provide the specific criteria CDC will rely on to make a data-driven decision to lift the recent mask-wearing guidance.
- Please provide the specific data that the CDC relies on to suggest children under the age of 12 should wear masks and please explain why such data has led the CDC to a different conclusion than the WHO and the European CDC.
There is also a request for information on virus transmissibility between people of varying age and vaccination status.
CLICK HERE to read the letter to Director Walensky.