What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What Americans should know about the delta variant, masks — regardless of vaccine status

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. life expectancy has fallen by a year and a half, the largest one-year decline since World War II. Black and Hispanic Americans were hit the hardest, dropping by almost 3 years. As the delta variant spreads and officials paint a sobering picture for Americans, especially those unvaccinated, John Yang discusses concerns with Georgetown University's Dr. Ranit Mishori.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The rise of new COVID infections is prompting ever more questions about how people should respond.

    The CDC added to the sobering picture of the pandemic's impact in the U.S. Life expectancy has fallen by a year-and-a-half. That is the largest one-year decline since World War II. Black and Hispanic Americans were hit the hardest, at times dropping by more than three years. The big decline is mainly due to the pandemic.

    John Yang looks at some of the key questions people are asking now, as the Delta variant spreads.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, while new cases are rising in all 50 states, the heaviest concentrations are being reported in the Deep South and a few other states like Missouri.

    More than 99 percent of new hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. And even though deaths remain very low, there's new anxiety about where the pandemic could be headed in this country.

    Dr. Ranit Mishori is a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University and senior medical adviser to Physicians For Human Rights. She also advises WETA, which owns the "NewsHour."

    Dr. Mishori, thanks so much for being with us.

    How concerned should people, especially people who are already fully vaccinated, how concerned should they be about the current situation?

  • Dr. Ranit Mishori:

    I think we shouldn't freak out, but we should be concerned. The pandemic is not over. It's not over globally and it's not over in the United States.

    So, I think that some caution, even if you're fully vaccinated, is fully warranted, given how fast and how wide the Delta variant is spreading.

  • John Yang:

    Explain to us how someone who is fully vaccinated could get infected right now and once infected, how likely is the chance that they will transmit or pass the virus along?

  • Dr. Ranit Mishori:

    Yes, I think what you're taking about is the so-called breakthrough infections.

    And I want to make sure that people recognize that they are normal and they are expected, and it's not unusual to have breakthrough infections. And there's nothing different about the COVID vaccines than the other vaccines in that regard.

    The vaccines, however, work as they should, and they prevent disease, they prevent hospitalizations and death, as you mentioned.

    But I would liken it to perhaps wearing a seat belt in a car. So, you're in a car, you put your seat belt on. You can still get involved in an accident. You can still bump against somebody, be the seat belt would protect you. You're not going to fly through the windshield.

    So, I think thinking about the COVID vaccine in the same manner, it is very protective. It does a good job at preventing you from getting very sick, from dying, from being hospitalized. But you can still have some — you can still be infected. Most likely, if you are infected, you will either have no symptoms or very, very light symptoms.

  • John Yang:

    Should people who are fully vaccinated go back to start wearing masks? Because a lot of people stopped once they got the full vaccine.

    And the CDC guidelines are that, if you're outdoors and indoors, you can go without.

  • Dr. Ranit Mishori:

    I think it depends on your — on one's personal characteristics and the setting.

    So, for example, I don't wear a mask — I'm fully vaccinated. I don't wear a mask when I'm in my house, when I visit friends who are fully vaccinated, or when I have when I go outside, but I do wear a mask if I'm in a room with other people, many of whom may not be vaccinated, or I don't know their vaccination status. I wear a mask inside restaurants and stores.

    Any time there is a gathering, and we don't know the vaccination status of the people around you, I think it's prudent to wear a mask.

    Also, if you have family members who are more at risk, children who cannot be vaccinated, or sick family members, or you yourself are at a higher risk because you're older or you're immunocompromised, I think all of these situations and settings are — is when I would recommend wearing a mask, even if you're fully vaccinated.

  • John Yang:

    Talked about if your immune system is somehow compromised.

    Should those people be thinking about getting an extra shot, a third dose, if you have got the mRNA vaccines? And along those lines, are people thinking — should — are there — what's the latest thinking about booster shots?

  • Dr. Ranit Mishori:

    Yes, I mean, this is one of the most common questions I have been getting these days.

    With a 50 percent vaccination rate around the United States and the Delta variant spreading, there is definitely an urgency to get more people vaccinated. But I'm not convinced that a third dose is what we need right now.

    First of all, the science is not really there about whether it's warranted for the general population. Perhaps it is for vulnerable people or those who are immunocompromised. But I also want to point out something, in looking at it through a public health lens or a health equity lens.

    We need more people in the United States and across the world to get their first and second shot, not — and not to start worrying about getting a third shot. So, if you think globally, for example, for every one person being vaccinated in a low-income country, about 117 people get vaccinated in a high-income country.

    And this is the type of inequity that is hurting all of us. If we want to slow down the pandemic — and I think we all do — the priority should be to get people to get their first and second shots as soon as possible, rather than start worrying about providing a third dose to some people who already had a full dose of the vaccine.

  • John Yang:

    Dr. Ranit Mishori of Georgetown University, thank you very much.

  • Dr. Ranit Mishori:

    Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

Listen to this Segment