Following Warren Questioning on Trump Politicization of Vaccine Effort, NIH Director Says American Public Should "Take the Information They Need from Scientists...Not From Politicians"
"The American people deserve a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine. But Congress is lying to itself, and to the public, if it pretends that the President cares about anything other than his own political survival when it comes to vaccine development" Epidemiologists estimate that at least 70 percent of the population may need to be immune to COVID-19 ideally through taking a vaccine, but a recent poll shows that only 21 percent of people surveyed would take a vaccine as soon as it became availa
Washington, DC -- During today's Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr. Francis Collins said the American public should listen to scientists, not politicians in response to Senator Warren questions about President Donald Trump's continued political interference in the COVID-19 vaccine effort. Senator Warren noted that President Trump has overruled scientists and pressured the FDA into approving products based on weak evidence, spread dangerous misinformation about COVID-19, and appointed a former drug industry executive with financial ties to vaccine makers to run the government's vaccine effort. In response to her questioning about the impact of President Trump's politicization of the vaccine development process, Dr. Collins said he hopes that Americans "choose to take the information they need from scientists and physicians, and not from politicians."
In the past few weeks alone, the President has accused FDA officials of being "deep state" operatives, tweeted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 deaths, and implicitly tied vaccine development to his reelection campaign. Senator Warren said she was grateful that Dr. Collins, scientists at the NIH, and researchers across the federal government are working night and day to produce a safe, effective vaccine but raised concerns that the President's actions could discourage Americans from getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Senator Warren: The coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of roughly 190,000 people. Our best hope to stop these deaths is a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine.
So, Dr. Adams, let me start with you. Estimates vary, but some epidemiologists believe that at least 70 percent of the population will need to be immune to COVID-19--ideally, through taking a vaccine--in order to provide herd immunity necessary to end this pandemic. Is that correct?
Dr. Jerome Adams: Yes, ma'am. The estimates that I've seen from experts range from 60 percent to 90 percent, but we certainly need to get over half of the population vaccinated so that we can achieve herd immunity and stop the transmission of this virus.
Senator Warren: Okay, so as I hear it, kind of our minimum target would be about 70 percent, give or take. So, the question is, can we do that? Now, the last flu season for which we have complete data, less than half of U.S. adults--only about 45 percent--got the flu vaccine. Currently, a CBS News poll shows that only 21 percent of people surveyed would take a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it became available.
Convincing enough Americans to take a COVID-19 vaccine is a big job, so let's talk about what makes it harder and what makes it easier. People are more likely to be vaccinated if they trust that federal officials are basing a vaccine decision on science and on data and not on politics, or self-interest, or conspiracy theories.
Unfortunately, President Trump has undermined this trust.
He has overruled scientists and pressured the FDA into approving products based on weak evidence.
And he has appointed a former drug industry executive with financial ties to the vaccine makers to run the government's vaccine effort.
And now, in recent days, he's hinted that he will deliver a vaccine "before the end of October"--a claim that public health experts fear is driven not by scientific evidence, but to boost his chances of winning the election in November.
It has gotten so out of hand that companies making COVID-19 vaccines put out a public statement promising to adhere to "high ethical standards and sound scientific principles" when seeking vaccine approval.
So, Dr. Collins, I know that you, and the scientists at the NIH, and the researchers across the federal government are working night and day to produce a safe, effective vaccine for the American people, and we are deeply grateful for that. But, Dr. Collins, let me ask: Do the President's actions encourage public trust in vaccines and increase the number of people likely to get the vaccine, or do they discourage Americans from getting vaccinated for COVID-19?
Dr. Francis Collins: I'm not sure I know the answer to that question. I'm more focused on what we can do in the scientific community to try to explain how it is that these decisions get made and certainly working with the Surgeon General trying to be sure that that message is out there.
You know, Senator, I am hopeful that those scary numbers that you just quoted, 21 percent people now saying they would accept this vaccine that that's based upon not really knowing what the facts are going to be. We're going to have to work really hard, though, in the coming weeks or months to get the facts out there about how the decisions are going to get made and how once we have, and I hope we will by the end of 2020, at least one, safe and effective vaccine. What is the evidence that anybody would want to look at in making their own decision, discounting whatever political words they heard, whatever conspiracy theories popped up in their Facebook feed, and actually, saying, okay, let's see what the doctors say. And I hope that if we can enlist trusted voices out there in the community, not just people in the government, like me, but people who are out there -- the physicians in the community, other community leaders who also get informed about this -- can share that information that America, which always after a while figures out how to do the right thing will do it again. And will take advantage--
Senator Warren: Well, I-- Dr. Collins. With all due respect. I really appreciate that you are doing everything you can and the scientists will continue to do that and lots of people will. But the question I asked you is about what the President is doing here and whether what he is doing is helpful or not.
You know, just in the past few weeks alone, the President has accused FDA officials of being "deep state" operatives. He's tweeted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 deaths, and he has implicitly tied vaccine development to his reelection campaign. If Americans who are watching all of this hesitate to take the vaccine because of what he has done, does that help us get to the levels we need to be able to create herd immunity?
Dr. Collins: I just hope Americans will take-- choose to take the information they need from scientists and physicians, and not from politicians.
Senator Warren: Well, I hope you are right. You know, the American people deserve a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine. But Congress is lying to itself, and to the public, if it pretends that the President cares about anything other than his own political survival when it comes to vaccine development. It is time to kick profits and politics out of the vaccine effort, and let the scientists do their work.
Chairman Lamar Alexander: Senator Warren.
Senator Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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