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Biden administration officials are downplaying Republican attacks on the latest mask guidance, focusing on one study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in making its determination.
The CDC recommended earlier this week that vaccinated individuals continue to wear masks indoors in areas where the case rate is higher than 50 per 100,000 individuals over concerns that the delta variant, now the dominant coronavirus strain, can still be carried and transmitted by vaccinated people.
In explaining the rationale behind the new guidance, the CDC cited "unpublished data" and a study performed by Indian researchers that found "relatively high viral loads and larger cluster sizes associated with infections with Delta, regardless of vaccination status."
The CDC said that the study monitored medical professionals who had been vaccinated "with vaccines not authorized for use in the United States," yet did not note the study's small sample size of 100 participants.
The CDC also failed to disclose that the study has not been accredited through the peer review process. Pre-print text of the study hosted on Research Square makes it clear the study is still "under review" and that it "should not be interpreted as an endorsement of its validity or suitability for dissemination as established information or for guiding clinical practice."
A Biden administration official conceded to the Washington Examiner that while the study in question has not yet completed the peer review process, the CDC also cited "Israeli data showing at least 13% of breakthroughs transmitting."
The official also said that the CDC would be publishing "much" of the "internal data they reviewed" on Friday before delivering the updated guidance.
That information appears to be the findings published Friday afternoon in the CDC's latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which indicated that nearly 75% of the confirmed cases in a recent Massachusetts beach coronavirus outbreak were in fully vaccinated individuals. It's worth noting that none of the cases in that group have been fatal and that only 4 out of roughly 1,000 confirmed cases resulted in hospitalizations.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called the finding "concerning" and added that it "was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
“The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones," she continued.
None of that is stopping Republicans from using the study as a new line of attack.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and nine other GOP senators introduced the Restore Public Health Institution Trust Act on Thursday, which, according to a press release from Rubio's office, "would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision making and messaging surrounding its reversal on mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans."
"These guidelines, like most of the Biden Administration's actions these days, make little sense and seem without scientific direction," Rubio added in a statement. "Americans have spent the last year and a half making tremendous sacrifices to halt the virus's spread, but they are confused and have lost trust in our institutions. The mixed messaging could also degrade trust in the efficacy of vaccines. My bill would bring more transparency to the CDC’s decisions, and direct GAO to offer recommendations on ways the CDC needs to improve their decision making process and the way they communicate recommendations.”
Over in the House, Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri and 20 other Republicans sent a letter to Walensky Friday morning claiming that the new guidance undercuts messaging that vaccinations are an effective tool for mitigating coronavirus spread.
"We are aware many states are currently experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 infections because of the transmissibility of the Delta variant. As Members of Congress, we are concerned by this case increase and support state led efforts to increase vaccinations and mitigate the spread. However, at this time we believe more stringent mask guidance will be ineffective and discourage vaccine uptake," the letter, of which the Washington Examiner obtained a copy, reads. "Your most recent guidance has been issued despite definitive scientific evidence showing the vaccine is effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and for those breakthrough cases that do occur, hospitalization and death are almost completely prevented. In fact, the study used by the CDC was rejected in peer review and was based off data from a vaccine that is not approved in the United States."
"In other words, the decision was based off zero scientific evidence showing transmission among individuals who have received a U.S. approved vaccine," the letter continues. "Your agency’s arbitrary reversal of mask guidance for vaccinated individuals will result in further vaccine hesitancy because it falsely implies the available COVID-19 vaccines are not effective."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has also elevated the India study. He tweeted Wednesday night that the CDC's guidance was based "exclusively" on the flawed report and raised the subject again during a floor speech.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called McCarthy a "moron" over his comments.
Furthermore, social media posts from Wednesday night claim that the India study had been previously rejected by the peer review process, although that claim was not corroborated by the Washington Examiner.
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Original Author: Christian Datoc