The White House learned Wednesday night that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials planned to drastically relax its mask guidance for vaccinated persons, Biden adviser Andy Slavitt said Friday, insisting the sudden change was based on incoming data and not political pressure.
Mr. Slavitt said the CDC informed the White House at 9 p.m. Wednesday — a day after Director Rochelle Walensky faced a grilling in the Senate about the slow pace of guidance for vaccinated persons.
“If they wanted to do this politically conveniently wouldn’t she have done this before the hearing so she didn’t have to take the tough questions, rather than after?” Mr. Slavitt told Fox News. “She’s not running a popularity contest. And the CDC always is going to be criticized as either being too fast or too slow — usually at the same time, by the way. They’re getting it from both sides today, they got it from both sides before they made this change.”
Some critics say President Biden was desperate for a win during a tough week marked by gas shortages and Middle East violence.
Admiral Brett Giroir, who led testing efforts during the Trump administration, said he couldn’t speak to that but he did not see anything new, scientifically, that wasn’t known a month ago.
“I think somebody just had to have the political will and say, “This is the right thing to do,’” he told Fox.
Mr. Slavitt insisted the decision was based on emerging science within the past few weeks. He pointed to an exponential drop in cases and new data on how vaccines prevent the spread, “which many people suspected but they now have some good data on.”
He also cited new data on the vaccines’ ability to thwart variants, plus the recent authorization of vaccines to people ages 12 to 16.
“Their job isn’t to be popular,” Mr. Slavitt said of the CDC. “They try to follow the science. Our job at the White House is just to let them follow the science and take what comes and try to explain it as best we can to the American public.”
“They found evidence that tells them you don’t need to wear a mask if you’re vaccinated,” he said.