Emory professor discusses COVID-19 vaccines, concerns about CDC mask guidanceDr. Robert Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University, held a press conference on Tuesday, May 19, via Zoom to discuss COVID-19 vaccine incentives and the new guidance on masks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Atlanta, GA — As more individuals became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, some businesses and cities are offering giveaways in an effort to incentivize people to get vaccinated. But questions and concerns remain about whether these efforts will encourage the desired result.
Dr. Robert Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University, held a press briefing on Tuesday, May 18, to discuss these incentives and the new guidance on masks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is really important especially right now because according to the CDC only about 44% of the U.S. population were eligible for the vaccine …,” Bednarczyk said.
Recently, there have been a number of announcements regarding ways to increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines, such as Krispy Kreme offering free doughnuts or breweries offering free beer to vaccinated individuals, Bednarczyk said.
The city of New Orleans gave away crawfish and the governor of Ohio announced last week that there would be a series of five $1 million lottery drawings for people who are vaccinated, Bednarczyk added.
Just last week, the CDC released updated guidance on masks for fully vaccinated people.
“This updated guidance, which indicates that fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities without wearing a mask or without physical distancing, except where required by other laws or regulations, may help individuals decide to get vaccinated because now there’s a potential that they can do things without wearing masks,” Bednarczyk said.
Bednarczyk is concerned that some people may take advantage of the loose enforcement of masks even if they are not fully vaccinated.
“We’ve seen that a lot of places have indicated that they’re going to rely on the honor system for individuals who are choosing to not wear a mask, especially for indoor settings that the honor system may break down if individuals are not fully open about their vaccination status,” Bednarczyk said.
About 65% of eligible Georgians are not fully vaccinated, so this offers a potential for new outbreaks of COVID-19 as people start to come together in different settings and interact with others while not wearing a mask, Bednarczyk said.
“But I think that it’s important to remember that the CDC guidance uses a very specific word,” Bednarczyk said. “They say that individuals can resume activities without a mask if they’re fully vaccinated. It’s not saying that people have to be unmasked. “
The guidance just gives fully vaccinated people the option to wear a mask or not.
“But I think that it’s important to remember that this new guidance doesn’t mean that we can all just throw away our masks all of a sudden but there can be some resumption of activities without masks,” Bednarczyk said. “I think that without a good way to assess that vaccination status, I worry about how many people are going to be unmasked and will we start to see a resurgence over the next few weeks.”
The giveaways and mask guidance all have one thing in common according to Bednarczyk. They incentivize vaccinations by giving people they want when they’re fully vaccinated.
The programs may help nudge folks who are intending to get a vaccine but have not yet done so although not everyone may be swayed by a giveaway, Bednarczyk said.
“There are some drawbacks to these programs for individuals who don’t have confidence in the vaccine or in the vaccination program, these giveaways are not likely to overcome these concerns,” Bednarczyk said. “We still need to work with and speak with our communities to understand their concerns, so that we can help answer questions about the vaccine.”
He worries that these flashy types of giveaways will distract from the day-to-day work that public health practitioners are doing.
“So vaccination does offer us a path forward out of the pandemic, but to reach those vaccine coverage levels that we really need to see to slow down and stop transmission of this virus and to keep people healthy, we still need many, many more people vaccinated,” Bednarczyk said. “[The giveaway programs] may give them that nudge but we still need to continue to have very open access. We need to have greater access to the vaccine and higher levels of acceptance of the vaccine to ensure protection of our communities.”
“It’s only with that high level of vaccine coverage that we’ll truly be able to ensure the best level of protection for our community from COVID-19,” Bednarczyk said.
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