My Coast Guard
Commentary | July 14, 2021

Fully vaccinated? Here are updated guidelines about required PPE

The Coast Guard’s Office of Safety and Environmental Health has announced that if you are fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), you may be able to relax COVID-19 hazard control requirements mandated by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Planning Order . If you have received a full series of shots (two shots for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, one for the J&J vaccine), and at least two full weeks have passed after the final shot, you are considered fully vaccinated.

Vaccines offer the best opportunity to control the spread of COVID-19. Vaccines eradicate viruses by preventing access to host cells, thereby eliminating the virus’s ability to replicate. In doing so, the vaccine protects the host from infection and ill effects. Additionally, vaccines reduce transmission, since they inhibit the virus’ ability to replicate. Under these circumstances, vaccines are the most effective hazard control option, and the best opportunity to minimize the need for COVID-19-related personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facemasks and gloves.

Now that numerous vaccines are available that effectively prevent COVID-19 infections and transmission, we can reconsider the use of PPE for those who are fully vaccinated. Because current and emerging virus variants may reduce vaccine effectiveness, the modified use of PPE must be evaluated on a region-by-region and mission-by-mission basis. For example, if your members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and you are conducting missions in an area with a low to moderate transmissibility rate, discontinuing PPE use is reasonable. On the other hand, if the mission activity involves a MEDEVAC of a confirmed COVID-19 positive person, or migrant operations involving people from a country known for high COVID-19 rates of transmission, continued use of PPE is highly encouraged even if your members are fully vaccinated. While the likelihood of infection is low for fully vaccinated people, continuing to use PPE will further reduce the potential for infection.

The COVID-19 Crisis Action Team (CCAT) continues to closely monitor virus transmissibility rates and variant circulation, and assess need for policy updates. To be clear, this guidance update does not cancel or dilute COVID-19 risk assessment requirements. Rather, it updates hazard control options by factoring in vaccines that were not available at the beginning of the pandemic. Operational commanders must continue to follow the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Planning Order (series) to maintain situational awareness of COVID-19 hazard exposure, and make warranted risk decisions. When in doubt, err on the side of prudence and use all available hazard control options.