A vial of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at an Eau Claire vaccination clinic for front-line health care workers in November.

EAU CLAIRE — A Mayo Clinic expert on Wednesday praised new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely socialize with other vaccinated people indoors, without masks — and sometimes in other circumstances.

The CDC is trying to show that there’s “no situation in which there is no risk, so it recognizes a range of risk,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

“It is the CDC’s first step toward normalcy,” Poland added Wednesday in a video call with reporters. “The basic idea here, in these interim recommendations, is that fully vaccinated people have a very small risk of transmitting the virus to someone else.”

Released earlier this week, the CDC’s main advice is that people who have gotten both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can gather indoors with each other if it’s been two weeks since their final dose, but should still wear masks in public.

The CDC also said vaccinated people can also visit with unvaccinated people indoors — without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart — if everyone in the unvaccinated group is low-risk for severe COVID-19.

If vaccinated people want to socialize indoors with non-vaccinated people, Poland urged them to consider the non-vaccinated person’s risk level.

If a vaccinated couple wants to hold a dinner party with a non-vaccinated person who’s under 65 and doesn’t have underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk, they wouldn’t have to wear masks or stay 6 feet apart, under the CDC’s new guidance, Poland said.

The guidance doesn’t apply to people when they’re inside congregate or health care settings, like prisons, shelters or dormitories, Poland said.

The CDC estimates that just over 9% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Wisconsin, almost 11% of people have been fully vaccinated, and 19% have received at least one dose. In Eau Claire County, almost 13% have been fully vaccinated and almost 22% have received at least one dose, according to state data.

The CDC is still recommending vaccinated people don’t go to large or medium-size gatherings in person, get tested if they’re having symptoms of the virus, and follow CDC travel requirements.

The CDC’s new vaccine guidance brings up caveats, Poland noted. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccine’s immunity lasts months, years or longer. Even if someone is vaccinated, their level of protection probably varies, depending on if they’re immunosuppressed or taking medications for other conditions, Poland said. Some people also might not want to share if they’ve gotten vaccinated, which could complicate gatherings.

Poland also urged people not to travel to large gatherings during this year’s spring break, saying that the CDC’s guidance doesn’t change current travel recommendations even if travelers are vaccinated.

“I think spring break travel is not a good idea,” he said. “We have just fallen into what I would call a high valley. We’re still having about 60,000 new cases identified a day in the U.S., and that’s in a setting where we’re doing far less testing, so we don’t know the real number. ...What we have seen over the last year is that every time we have a big travel holiday in the U.S., we can count on a surge in cases over the two to six weeks following that, followed by increases in hospitalization and followed by increases in deaths.”

Poland has given paid scientific advice on vaccines to Johnson & Johnson and consultative advice on vaccine development to several other COVID-19 vaccine makers, including AstraZeneca, said Poland and Mayo Clinic. Poland has also received grant funding for preclinical studies for a peptide-based COVID-19 vaccine, Mayo said in a statement.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.