The NIH director says the pandemic’s toll is now on the shoulders of the unvaccinated: NPR

The NIH director says the pandemic’s toll is now on the shoulders of the unvaccinated: NPR

Michel Martin of MediaFrolic speaks to Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, on the best ways to protect yourself from the coronavirus before the holiday season.


Millions of Americans are out this weekend as the country prepares for another coronavirus pandemic holiday season. Meanwhile, cases are picking up again in some parts of the country. So let’s first take a look at some of the latest information we have about the pandemic, including the recent decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow all Americans 18 and older to get booster vaccinations for COVID. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health and a key adviser to President Biden on the pandemic.

Dr. Collins, welcome. Thank you for joining us again.

FRANCIS COLLINS: I am pleased to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: As we just said, all American adults are now entitled to a COVID booster vaccination. How do you hope this will help, especially as we approach not only the holidays but the colder winter months as well?

COLLINS: Well, I hope people look carefully. And if you’re over 18 and haven’t had a booster vaccination and are six months away from your first vaccination with Pfizer or Moderna, or just two months if you are receiving J&J, this is a great time to step up that vaccination so that you are less at risk. And a lot of people do that.

I think what happened on Friday was a clarification about who exactly is eligible for boosters. And now they are recommended for everyone over 18. So there’s nothing left of it, well, is it about me or not? Yes. It’s about (laughter) you when you grow up.

The other thing, Michel, of course, is those 60 million people who didn’t even get their first dose when you waited to see if it was necessary, hey, it is necessary. Don’t wait any longer.

MARTIN: So, given this high number of unvaccinated Americans, what is the bigger strategy to contain the spread of this virus? I mean, is that a situation where people like you in public health think we just have to somehow learn to live with that long term?

COLLINS: Well, I wish it wasn’t. It is clear that our inability to somehow convince people that this is what they want for themselves, these 60 million people, prevents a real challenge in ending this pandemic. I think I thought, Michel, you know, a few months ago when it became clear that this pandemic is still going on and the terrible, tragic toll it is taking almost entirely on the shoulders of the unvaccinated people, that this is really it so would be people who had waited and were perhaps afraid of a lot of misinformation, said, wait a minute. See what’s happening here. And I still hope that maybe that is possible.

MARTIN: But is that – isn’t hope a strategy? I mean, what do you think of this particular group?

COLLINS: Well, we’re still trying to convince. But the other thing that’s happening now, Michel, is of course the mandates. And I think that resulted in people who refused to look at the situation and leave, well, OK. What the hell. If it really needs to be and I don’t have to be the person to make the decision and then explain it to my otherwise stubborn friends, sure enough. I think this will give us a huge leap forward in adding many of the unvaccinated to the list of those who are now better protected.

MARTIN: As I said at the beginning, this week and in the coming weeks, millions of Americans will be traveling on their winter vacation. Last winter was the deadliest point of the pandemic for Americans. And so new factors this year – vaccines and booster vaccines, which we talked about. But then there is also this delta variant that has caused so much pain and suffering. What do you advise people to do this Christmas time? What precautions do you think people should take?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, get vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, I think traveling is a significant risk. For those who are vaccinated: If you gather indoors, make sure you meet with other people who are also vaccinated.

But what you said at the beginning, Michel, is true. We should also realize that we are in a better place than we were a year ago. Now it will be possible for those who have been vaccinated to hold family reunions on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I hope I get mine later this week.

MARTIN: Well, I hope it’s a wonderful occasion. You recently announced that you would soon be stepping down as NIH director. And I just wanted to ask you, and along with the words, you know, thank you for that – those years of service, what still worries you most for the health of our nation, when you look at all the things you have pondered and in which you did your years in this role speak to each other?

COLLINS: Well, it was a privilege to be able to play that role for 12 years. And looking at the COVID situation, I am certainly amazed at what science could do to respond. But I still worry about where we are. And frankly, Michel, what worries me most is the way in which misinformation and, frankly, disinformation has become so prominent in the face of a public health crisis. And in some situations it has been manipulated for political reasons to make our culture wars really serious.

We probably lost 100,000 unvaccinated people to COVID-19 because they had information that told them it wasn’t safe for them. And that’s heartbreaking. And it seems to me to be a kind of breakdown in our society to distinguish opinions from truth. And when we’ve lost that ability, when we can’t go through the evidence and understand what is real and true, then I worry about all sorts of other challenges that lie ahead.

MARTIN: So misinformation is currently the deadliest disease.

COLLINS: It is. And I think those who are intentionally spreading this type of information that they know is wrong for political or personal reasons, I really think they are the ones we should track down and find out, why are you doing this? ? And isn’t there some kind of justice for this kind of action? Isn’t that like screaming fire in a crowded theater? Can you really do that without any consequences?

MARTIN: That was Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins, thank you very much for talking to us today.

COLLINS: Nice to speak to you, Michel.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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