A Martinez of NPR speaks with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about the spread of COVID-19 and the reluctance to get vaccinated. As the number of cases increases, the White House is pushing for more Americans to get vaccinated.
IN MARTINEZ, HTE:
And as the number of coronavirus cases rises, the Biden administration is once again pushing for more Americans to get vaccinated. US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is helping lead the effort and he’s joining us now. Doctor, 57% of eligible people in the United States are fully vaccinated, but those rates appear to have leveled off. What are the chances that the United States does not exceed this plateau?
VIVEK MURTHY: Well, hello, A. We have millions and millions of people vaccinated. This is the good news. And as a result, we don’t see nearly as high death rates or case rates as high as we saw in January. But there are still millions more who are not vaccinated. And as a result of that we are seeing spikes in cases driven by the delta variant where the number of unvaccinated is high. I think we can get out of this. And the good news is that every day we continue to immunize hundreds of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands of people decide to protect themselves from the virus every day. We just need to accelerate these numbers even further. And I think one of the keys to doing that is to make sure that those who are vaccinated actually turn to their family and friends and ask them if they have been vaccinated, because we know that these conversations with family and friends are what people tell them they matter when making the decision to get the vaccine.
MARTINEZ: Doctor, I did. I’m sure a lot of people have. But the numbers, as I mentioned, don’t seem to work. I mean, so – going through that is different than having these numbers increasing as they need to.
MURTHY: Well, it works. It just doesn’t work as fast as we want it to because we have to get more and more people vaccinated every day. And so what I – it’s very important to point out, is that the vaccines themselves work. They’ve – there’s been studies showing that if you model it, what life would have been like if we hadn’t had vaccines compared to the vaccines we have now, we would have seen many, many more people die. by hundreds of thousands. We would also have experienced over a million additional hospitalizations. Vaccines therefore save lives. But if you are not vaccinated then you are particularly at risk, especially with the delta variant. And part of why we’re seeing such an increase in cases in states like Florida and Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana is because in those states we have large pockets where vaccination is low – really is. low – some counties where, for example, the rates are even below 20%. And it’s a perfect setting for the delta virus to spread quickly.
MARTINEZ: Doctor, what if the coronavirus continues to mutate?
MURTHY: Well, the virus will continue to mutate. We know that. Most of the time, the mutations will not be consecutive. Every now and then they will. But that’s the risk of having a significant amount of the virus spreading at one point. The virus mutates as it replicates, which means that if it doesn’t infect people, it can’t mutate. And that is why it is so important to reduce the overall burden of infection in the United States, but also around the world. And that’s why the steps the United States has taken to deliver not only supplies – over 580 million doses committed now and more to come – but also the steps we are taking to work with other countries. to build manufacturing capacity so that they can help immunize the world. This is why this is so important, because this is a global pandemic, and it will not be fully under control unless we have a fully global response.
MARTINEZ: But are we at a tipping point, so to speak, where the unvaccinated population is at a point where they could overwhelm hospitals or possibly cause further closures?
MURTHY: Well, we’re already seeing in parts of Missouri, for example, hospital systems being pushed to the brink. And unfortunately, in areas where vaccination rates are low, I worry a lot, not only about the systems themselves and their capacity, but I also worry about the health workers who staff them. A, What we do know is that burnout among healthcare professionals was high before the pandemic. But the pandemic has really pushed many healthcare workers over the edge. They report high levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many talk about dropping out of the workforce as they see it wave after wave after wave.
So get vaccinated to protect your health. Get vaccinated to protect today’s struggling healthcare workers. And finally, A, think of our children. Our children under 12 – children like mine, who are 3 and 4 years old – who cannot be vaccinated, they depend on the protection of those around them to protect them from the virus. So that’s another reason why we need to get vaccinated. It is to protect our children who are too young to be vaccinated.
MARTINEZ: I know the word lockdown, however, is a politically charged word. Are you worried about this, or can you see it coming eventually?
MURTHY: I think it’s unlikely in the short term that we will return to the lockdowns we remember from 2020. And part of that is that we have more experience and are smarter about how to reduce the spread. . We know that masks, for example, are very effective in reducing the spread, especially when used indoors, when you are around people outside your home. We know that washing your hands and keeping your distance can also be very effective in reducing the spread. So – and we – now we have vaccines accordingly.
One promising sign is that in some of the states and regions that have been hit hardest by the delta surge, we are actually seeing a significant increase in vaccinations, which is good news. But we have to maintain this and accelerate it further. This is one of the reasons the administration has set up emergency response teams to send to the hard-hit areas to provide them with everything from help with vaccinations to tests and more. of treatments.
MARTINEZ: Have there been any discussions with an administration, or maybe the CDC, to urge everyone to wear face masks again? You said that masks work or can work. Was there any talk of making it a priority?
MURTHY: Well, what the CDC certainly said was not only that the masks work, but that if you’re fully vaccinated, the risk of getting sick or transmitting the virus is low. Having said that, you know, people can make their own individual decisions here based on their circumstances. If you live at home with unvaccinated children, if you live in an area where the vaccine has spread widely, you may choose to continue to wear masks. And I think that would be a prudent thing to seriously consider, especially with so many viruses going around. Counties can also make the decision to put in place mask requirements if they see the number of cases increase again. I think it’s the safe and prudent thing to deal with a fast-spreading delta variant.
MARTINEZ: This is Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, thank you very much.
MURTHY: Thanks very much. Pay attention to.
NPR transcripts are created on time by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.
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