Researchers know by now the available COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from getting COVID around 95% of the time. But the million-dollar question remains: Are people less likely to spread the illness after they get the vaccine? According to preliminary data, the odds are good.
“The looming question is, if the person who’s been vaccinated gets infected, does that person have the capability to transmit it to another person,” Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House COVID-19 Response Team’s chief medical adviser, said during a White House briefing Wednesday. “Some studies are pointing in a very favorable direction.”
Fauci cited studies from Spain and Israel published this month, showing the amount of viral load — or the amount of the COVID-19 virus in someone’s body — is significantly lower if someone gets infected after they’ve been vaccinated, compared with people who get infected and didn’t have the vaccine. Lower viral load means much lower chances of passing the virus to someone else, Fauci says.
“There’s a direct correlation with viral load and transmission,” he says. “In other words, higher viral load, higher transmissibility; lower viral load, very low transmissibility.”
Fauci says that Israel has more thorough data on this than the United States because it has given 78 doses per 100 people — well above the U.S. vaccination rates, which is currently 16.7 doses per 100 people.
These early findings will need to be proved with more studies, Fauci says.
“This is another example of the scientific data starting to point to the fact that the vaccine is important not only to protect people from infection and disease,” Fauci says, “but it also has very important implications from a public health standpoint.”
People who have been vaccinated should still practice social distancing, hand-washing, and, most importantly, mask-wearing, he says. But the data further highlights how important the vaccine will be in the efforts to curb the pandemic.
The COVID-19 Response Team also announced an investment from the federal government of $1.6 billion in three areas: testing in schools and underserved populations, increasing genomic sequencing, and making critical testing supplies.
Genomic sequencing plays a key role in identifying new COVID-19 variants. This is how the United Kingdom and South African strains — now found across the United States — were discovered. The technique analyzes the structure of the virus to spot mutations. The COVID-19 Genomics Consortium has been studying COVID-19’s genetic history for nearly a year.
Of the $1.6 billion, $200 million will be invested in sequencing. The CDC will increase its sequencing efforts from 7,000 samples per week to about 25,000 per week.
An additional $650 million will go toward testing in K-8 schools and underserved settings like homeless shelters.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, reported during the briefing that COVID-19 rates are still dropping — there was a 21% decline in COVID-related hospitalizations over the past week — but that cases are still higher than they were over the summer.
The drop, she says, is not a result of the vaccinations.
“Only 5% of people have received two doses,” she says. “We’re not in the place where the current level of vaccination is driving down surge of disease.”
MedRxiv: “Initial real world evidence for lower viral load of individuals who have been vaccinated by BNT162b2.”
The Lancet: “Transmission of COVID-19 in 282 clusters in Catalonia, Spain: a cohort study.”
News briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Team, Feb. 17, 2021.