WASHINGTON—At a Health Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) spoke with Surgeon General VADM Dr. Jerome Adams and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins about the need for a comprehensive effort to increase the confidence Americans have in safe vaccines.
A partial transcript can be found below and full video of the exchange can be found here.
Senator Romney: I want to pick up on a line of questioning that Senator Murkowski described and that is with regard to the growing sentiment across our country of people who are, if you will, anti-vaxxers—people who are avoiding vaccines…There are literally books out there written to describe why vaccines are bad. And I wonder if it does not make sense for our government to put out a very comprehensive effort to dispel this growing sense of vaccines being bad. I don't know how you do that, but it would come to mind that you are doing that with regards to tobacco and massive advertising on TV. You could have debates, you could call in these people who write these books and have discussions with them, which are publicized. You could have a much more aggressive campaign on social media. I guess the question I’m asking is should we be doing more than we are doing, and what could we be doing to resolve the debate, the uncertainty that so many Americans have about the wisdom of receiving a vaccine? I will ask Dr. Collins and the Surgeon General both if you would respond to that.
NIH Director Collins: This has been an issue for our country not just in this season of COVID-19, but before that. One has seen the consequences of that with measles. In the year 2000, we declared that the U.S. succeeded effectively in getting rid of measles and last year we had more than 1,000 cases. People have forgotten that kids die of that disease and continue to die in other parts of the world. I think we have benefited from the success of vaccines so that a generation has sort of lost track of the fact that these are preventing diseases that take lives. I just saw an estimate that if you looked at all the children born in 2009 and you ask what would have happened if none of these vaccines had been available, 42,000 of them would have died. Imagine that—42,000 kids dying from preventable conditions because vaccines were not available. They are available now but if they are not getting used, we are facing that same kind of terrible consequence, and it is heartbreaking and I must say, frustrating. It causes you anger and frustration that this kind of misinformation is so readily spread by people who have another agenda, and we have a hard road to go to try to counter that when so many people don't see in their own experience the reason why this is such a life-saving vaccine.
Surgeon General Adams: The Department of Health and Human Services is using a three-tiered approach to improve vaccine confidence for research and evaluation, collaboration and partnership, communication strategy and knowledge dissemination. I put out an op-ed earlier this year with the Secretary and CDC Director Redfield. We are working with platforms like Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook to make sure appropriate and accurate information is displayed prominently when people do a search. CDC developed “Vaccinate with Confidence,” the strategic framework to strengthen confidence. We're working with minority medical schools like Morehouse and beyond. You mentioned vaccine resistance in the anti-vaccine community. It is important to understand that 90% of parents out there are actually doing the right thing and that when you look at the 10% who aren't, most of those are not in that anti-vax or vaccine-resistant category, but in the vaccine-hesitant category. That is who we really need to work on. We need to work on educating them and engaging them and being compassionate with them and patient with them to answer their questions.