ATLANTA — For nearly a year, being "fully vaccinated" has become a ticket for many to re-enter society, and for some, a requirement to go back to work. But millions of Americans could soon find their status changing, as the federal government weighs in on whether to redefine fully vaccinated to now include boosters.
The discussion comes as there is a surge in cases -- partly tied to the Omicron variant -- and as a U.S. appeals court reinstates President Joe Biden's nationwide vaccine mandate for large businesses.
While Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical advisor, hasn’t indicated whether the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention is fully on board with a new definition, he said over the weekend that it’s on the table and open for discussion.
“It is really semantics, as far as I’m concerned, I make it very clear that if you want to be optimally protected, get boosted," said Fauci.
Currently, the CDC defines "fully vaccinated" if it has been more than two weeks for someone who received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or their single-dose shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads across Georgia and the U.S., medical experts said clarity is needed.
“Fully vaccinated is no longer the same thing as fully protected, and there really shouldn’t be a discrepancy between fully vaccinated and fully protected," said Dr. Jayne Morgan, Executive Director of the COVId Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare.
Millions of Americans could be impacted by the change, as more businesses return to the workplace and require their employees to be fully vaccinated in order to work.
“Most of the private mandates that are in place now are based on the CDC's recommendations, so if the CDC were to change the definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated – that means those policies would also have to change," explained Attorney and 11 Alive Contributor Page Pate.
Pate said private companies and local jurisdictions have the authority to make the change immediately, but said the actual enforcement could be problematic.
“I think it would have to be a rolling enforcement to give everyone time to catch up, and I think that’s one of the reasons the CDC is probably cautious about making the change," added Pate.
When 11 Alive asked the Georgia Department of Public Health about the possible change, a spokesperson said "what they know about COVID and its variants today may not mean the same thing six months or a year from now and they'll with what science tells them." The CDC, echoing that sentiment, said they are continuing to following the science that is literally evolving daily.
Pate also shared he believes a change in the CDC's definition of "fully vaccinated" could make it much more difficult for the federal government to prevail in enforcing President Biden's vaccine mandates.
"Because now those opposing those mandates will have an additional argument. And that is how are we supposed to keep up with this if the goal post keeps moving and the requirement keeps changing," added Pate.