"Just because you get vaccinated with that second dose does not mean you should be participating in things like traveling in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic, or that you’re liberated from masks," he said. "Everything still applies until all of us get the two-dose regimen. We don’t think that’s going to happen until June, July.
"We don’t know if just getting the vaccination prevents serious illness, or does it also prevent you from getting infection entirely?" Dr. Gupta added, "meaning you can still get infected with the virus potentially and pass it on to others ... Don’t let your guard down just because you got vaccinated."
Healthcare workers and vulnerable seniors became the first Americans to receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have proven to be highly effective in protecting patients from illness, experts have not concluded whether an asymptomatic, vaccinated person could still spread the COVID-19.
Gupta responded online after his remarks were flagged by Grabien founder Tom Elliott and criticized as so-called goalpost moving.
"As with Tom’s other posts, I recognize this thread is intended to rile people up and not focus on what’s accurate to protect public health," Gupta tweeted, linking to a New York Times article urging vaccinated people to continue wearing masks for fear of spreading the virus to the unvaccinated.
Another New York Times article about vaccines said, however, that "based on studies of flu vaccine and even patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to be hopeful that vaccinated people won’t spread the virus," adding more research was needed.
Commentary writer Noah Rothman tweeted Gupta's guidance would go over like "cold soufflé" and guessed people who have already faced months of lockdowns would be unlikely to heed continued distancing measures after getting vaccinated.
"Next to no one, at least those without comorbidities or at-risk loved ones, is going to get two shots of the vaccine and behave like it's still 2020," wrote Rothman, who later added: "If your public messaging strategy is to insist that people who have received two boosts should still distance, wear masks, and avoid social engagements, your messaging strategy is dumb."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also said Monday that people should not let up on coronavirus precautions, in spite of the vaccine milestone.
"We need you to be vigilant, we need you to do that because we want everybody who is here now to be here next year for the holiday season," Azar said. "Now is not the time to let our guard down."