Some who are hesitant to get vaccinated point to the fact that the vaccines remain under emergency-use authorization rather than full approval. It’s vital for Democratic and Republican leaders to explain clearly and repeatedly that the F.D.A. held these vaccines to such high standards that the only real difference is that full approval requires steps like analyzing longer-term safety and efficacy data, and inspecting manufacturing facilities. Hundreds of millions of doses of these vaccines have now been given to Americans over the past year, providing us with some of the most robust real-world evidence of their safety and efficacy that we’ve ever had for new vaccines. A vast majority of adverse events with the vaccines occur in the first 42 days or so.
The current and former leadership of the F.D.A. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — of both parties — are unanimous in encouraging all eligible Americans to take the vaccines. Political, public health and thought leaders must educate about the benefits of the vaccine, not hector or preach. This information must come from respected and trusted figures in the various hesitant communities.
We did not reach our stretch goal of producing 300 million doses by January, but we hedged our bets by investing in a portfolio of vaccines and had tens of millions of doses of vaccine in production by the end of January. Many governors were able to begin general vaccination programs by March, and we had a surplus of vaccine by the end of the second quarter.
As I reflect, we could have done a better job in reminding the media and the public of all that could go wrong with vaccine development and manufacturing. We also should have explained more clearly the operational complexities that would accompany a large scaling up of distribution.
We could have done more to address vaccine hesitancy. We focused a great deal of our efforts at the start on the groups that we thought might be most hesitant. We demanded all clinical trials included a diverse, representative sample of participants, and the Department of Health and Human Services provided funding for an effort by the Morehouse School of Medicine to coordinate a network of national, state, territorial, tribal and local organizations to deliver trusted information to racial and ethnic minority communities.
But we did not predict the politicization of vaccines that has led so many Republicans to hold back. As of mid-July, 43 percent of Republicans said that they have not been vaccinated and definitely or probably wouldn’t be, versus 10 percent of Democrats, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. I’m glad former President Trump got vaccinated, but it would have been even better for him to have done so on national television so that his supporters could see how much trust and confidence he has in what is arguably one of his greatest accomplishments.
The vaccines could be a victory lap for the Republican Party, and I call upon all party leaders and conservatives to double down on encouraging vaccination. Party leaders like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida are making clear that vaccines save lives. Sean Hannity of Fox News is now telling viewers to “please take Covid seriously.” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana shared a photo of himself recently getting vaccinated. I urge more of this from trusted voices on the right.