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Walensky on European-Style Access Passes for Vaccinated: ‘That May Be a Path Forward’

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a U.S. Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 18, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Reuters)

During an appearance on CNN Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky suggested that a health pass system allowing special access to certain venues for vaccinated individuals, already underway in France and Italy, could be adopted in the United States.

When the host asked whether the CDC would consider implementing these European-style cards, which could provide admission to places like a disco, restaurant, or sporting event, she replied, “I think some communities are doing that and that may very well be a path forward.”

Some European countries have received backlash over their decision to use health passes, which require either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test within the last 48 hours to enter major public buildings, with thousands of demonstrators marching in city streets to protest what they believe is invasive government encroachment on their civil liberties.

Walensky added some justification for her agency’s mask guidance reversal, which now recommends that some vaccinated people resume mask-wearing in regions with high infection rates. The CDC director addressed the rise in breakthrough cases, in which already inoculated people are becoming infected and spreading the pathogen to others asymptomatically. She noted that vaccinated people can still be virus-carriers, although they are largely protected from suffering severe illness if they contract it.

“In some fully vaccinated venues, if they are unmasked, and there are a few people who are transmitting there as a fully vaccinated person, it is possible to pick up disease in those settings. We’ve seen that in some of our outbreak investigations this summer. Which is why overall it is so very critical to get the huge amount of disease in these areas down,” Walensky commented.

She echoed the CDC statistics that unvaccinated people now account for the majority of new cases in the United States and that 95 percent of newly hospitalized COVID-19 patients have not received the shot.

“This is a situation that has been created by transmission of the delta virus among people who are unvaccinated. This is not about who needs to take responsibility…We put this guidance out because the science demonstrates that if you are vaccinated you could potentially give the disease to someone else and that was the motivation for this,” she said.

In its guidance update Tuesday, the CDC also directed everyone in K-12 schools, including children, teachers, and staff, to start wearing masks again, regardless of vaccination status.

The CDC’s revised guidance communicates to the public that the unvaccinated are responsible for the health restriction renewals. Some Republicans have stated that contradictory mask advisories from the CDC are exacerbating vaccine hesitancy among those who have abstained, and could potentially fuel the idea of national vaccine verification, which Walenksy alluded to Wednesday.

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