The U.S. government recently announced major progress on COVID-19 vaccinations: More than half of American adults have got at least one dose and over 32 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All those shots in all those arms are raising the question across the United States, as around the world: After more than a year under pandemic restrictions, to what extent can fully vaccinated people go out into the world and do whatever they used to do?

Leana Wen is an emergency physician, public-health professor at the George Washington University, and former Baltimore health commissioner. In her view, public guidance in the U.S. has been highly uneven on this issue, with CDC officials now at risk of “making themselves irrelevant” on account of their excessively cautious advice. Earlier this month, for example, the CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky, said that while “fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of [COVID] cases.” For Wen, recommendations like this defy common sense. “We should really talk about how vaccines are our way back to pre-pandemic normal,” she says, “and that message is not being fully conveyed.”


Graham Vyse: If I’ve gotten my vaccine, and waited two weeks for the full protection to kick in, then what? Am I back to my life before the pandemic?

Leana Wen: I’ll tell you what the CDC’s recommendations are—and why I believe it needs to go a lot further. The CDC says that if you are fully vaccinated—meaning two weeks after both doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or two weeks after a single dose of Johnson & Johnson—you can see other people who are fully vaccinated, essentially without restriction, in private settings. You can have dinner indoors without masks. You can hug other people who are fully vaccinated.

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