With the Memorial Day weekend approaching, and with half of the U.S. adult population now vaccinated—but many remaining steadfast against it—public health experts are warning unvaccinated Americans that they shouldn’t rely on vaccinated Americans for protection. That’s because people who are unvaccinated still have a high risk of catching COVID.
“If you are vaccinated, you are protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said during a White House news conference May 25, according to the New York Times. “If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you, you remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions.”
That report noted that 50% of those 18 or older in the U.S. were reported as fully vaccinated, with 61% having received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine (though the pace appears to be slowing down).
“The work ahead of us is going to be really challenging because while the people who are fully vaccinated are well protected, we still have to keep on convincing individuals who are not yet vaccinated that they are not safe,” according to CNN medical analyst Leana Wen. “The pandemic is not over for them.”
Wen noted that the risk for unvaccinated people is actually close to where it was during the surge the U.S. experienced at the start of 2021.
“COVID-19 remains a real concern for many—including families with young children,” Wen wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece. She noted that with more Americans getting vaccinated, children are making up a higher percentage of new cases. “Pediatric infections represent 14% of the total since the beginning of the pandemic,” she observed, “but are now up to 24% of new weekly cases, with nearly 49,000 infections reported in the week before May 13.”
She also suggested that the CDC’s new mask guidance, which she claimed “essentially ended mask mandates overnight,” could further endanger unvaccinated people. “Few businesses are requesting proof of vaccination, opting instead for an honor system that many doubt will be effective,” she wrote. “As a result, children are increasingly being exposed to maskless, unvaccinated people in public places, further increasing their risk.”
A study conducted by The Conversation found that about 21% of people do not plan to get the COVID vaccine and about 26% of those unvaccinated people who are still at high risk of getting COVID are not planning to wear masks while indoors. And the more the coronavirus continues to circulate, the higher chance that it will mutate into something that could be resistant to the vaccine.