WASHINGTON - The Biden administration is offering clarity for Americans with questions about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president released a questions-and-answers video Saturday morning that showed experts answering common questions from ordinary Americans.
They covered topics like vaccine safety, variants, side effects and mask-wearing — which found topic dominating headlines since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cleared vaccinated people to go maskless in most indoor and outdoor settings on Thursday.
"How do we know it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to not wear their masks indoors and outdoors?"
According to data collected by the CDC, more than 121 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against the virus. That makes up roughly 36.7% of the population — far beneath the herd immunity threshold, which is predicted to be north of 70%.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief COVID advisor to President Joe Biden and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the CDC came to the decision to allow vaccinated people to go maskless based on an accumulation of scientific evidence over the last few weeks.
Real-world data has shown vaccinated people rarely contract the virus. And if they do, their infections are milder, shorter and harder to spread to others.
"The low level of infection in the community and the extraordinarily high effectiveness of the vaccines have brought us to the conclusion that it is now safe to put aside masks so long as you are vaccinated," Fauci explained.
"How can we be sure the vaccine is safe when it was developed so quickly?"
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbet, a viral immunologist who was at the forefront of developing the COVID vaccines, credited previous knowledge of other coronaviruses with the rapid development of the vaccines.
Diseases like MERS, SARS and even the common cold are all coronaviruses, so researchers already had a slew of information at their disposal.
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Essentially, vaccine developers didn’t have to start from scratch. In addition to the headstart, the previous knowledge allowed for a "global network of collaboration that has helped to fuel the vaccine forward," Corbet said.
"What should I say when someone tells me they don’t want to get vaccinated?"
Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, said it’s important to understand what you’re putting in your body, especially with the misinformation circulating about vaccines.
Murthy said these vaccines have been "rigorously studied." Not only are doctors recommending them, but they’re also receiving them as well.
"We struggled a lot over this past year. All of us have," Murthy said. "And now we have a chance to get back on track. That’s the vaccine."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbet and Dr. Vivek Murthy field questions about the vaccine from ordinary Americans. (Source: White House via Storyful)
"Why weren’t more kids eligible for the vaccine before, and why are only 12-15 year-olds eligible for the vaccine now?"
Children weren’t included in the initial clinical trials conducted last year. So since there was no data on how the vaccine affected children, they were omitted from the initial authorization in December.
"We already know 12-15 is OK," Fauci explained,. "But we’re going to go 12 to 9 years old, 9 to 6, 6 to 2 — and if that works well, we’ll go 6 months to 2 years."
Fauci said if those studies go well, vaccines will become available to children of any age.
"I’ve been hearing a lot about variants traveling in other countries. Should we be concerned about them traveling here?"
So far, none of the variants circulating have proven able to evade the vaccine’s protection. But U.S. officials have been preparing for the possibility of that for weeks.
Fauci has previously said the government is stockpiling vaccines for any potential boosters down the road.
In Saturday’s video, Corbet said experts are already monitoring the variants and testing them against the vaccines.
"All of those tests are showing very clearly that there will be some protection most likely to any of the variants that have so far popped up around the globe," Corbet said.
"What are the side effects of the vaccine?"
The side effects experienced following a COVID vaccination are similar to those after other vaccinations, like the annual flu shot.
Murthy said recipients have reported fatigue, low-grade temperatures and body aches. But characterized their severity as mild and as short term.
"After my second shot, I felt that way for about 12 to 18 hours," Murthy said. "But the good news is those symptoms don’t last long, and they don’t have any lasting side effects. But what you are left with is protection against COVID-19."
This story was reported from Atlanta.