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Biden administration touts vaccines as all adults become eligible

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 5:57 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - As of Monday, everyone 16 and older in the United States is eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Washington Bureau Reporter Kyle Midura connected with Andy Slavitt, White House senior advisor on the COVID-19 response. The pair discussed vaccine availability, hesitancy, and when every person who wants a dose will finally be able to get one.

You can watch the full interview in the video player above and a transcript is below.

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Kyle Midura - Gray Television Washington Bureau Reporter:

Mr. Slavitt thank you for joining us today, as you’re well aware everyone 16 and older is eligible as of today. What’s in shorter supply vaccines, or arms to vaccinate?

Andy Slavitt - White House Senior Advisor on the COVID-19 Response:

Well actually, today is one of those perfect days. Everything you’ve heard about the vaccine being too difficult to find, there not being enough places to get vaccinated, there not being enough vaccinators, all of that is history.

Today, for the first time there’s no confusing rules, there’s no hurdles, we’ve got vaccines in 60,000 locations, 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a place to get vaccinated.

So, if you haven’t been vaccinated, and about half of adults haven’t, this is the day to begin.

Kyle Midura:

In areas where they weren’t already through every tier, would you expect the wait for scheduling an appointment to simply get longer, as opposed to making a shot available sooner than it otherwise would’ve been?

Andy Slavitt:

Well, we’re now producing and sending out to states about 28 million vaccines every week, and they’re putting about 21 million or so into people’s arms. So, every state should have an abundant supply of vaccines. That doesn’t mean you’ll get an appointment today but it does mean that there are enough vaccines in and around you that if you pick one of the locations near you, you should be able to get an appointment pretty quickly.

Kyle Midura:

You and Dr. Fauci have emphasized that if you look at the data, it’s clear that getting vaccinated is the right choice. But, a Monmouth University poll found that 21% of US adults say they’re unlikely to get a vaccine, that is slightly down from March when it was 24%, and a separate Kaiser and Washington Post survey of front-line health workers found that 12% described themselves as undecided, while more than one in six aren’t interested.

How can you have faith in regular Americans seeing the data the same way you do if the rates aren’t better amongst medical professionals?

Andy Slavitt:

When’s the last time you saw somebody with polio? You don’t. And, why is that? That’s because the polio vaccine, which is about the same level of effectiveness as the Covid vaccine, has been used by millions of people.

Now, look I understand why people have questions, I understand that people want their questions answered. I mean people have concerns about taking the vaccine. That’s totally reasonable.

That doesn’t discourage me and it shouldn’t discourage anybody. What we need to do is just make sure that people who have questions have a place to get those questions answered by people that they trust.

That’s why we’ve given information to thousands and thousands of local physicians, pharmacists, people in communities so that people can get their questions answered. And, people shouldn’t be afraid to ask those questions. Those questions more often than not will make people comfortable that a vaccine is a good thing to do and allow them to get back to their life.

Kyle Midura:

The New York Times put out a map showing that the least vaccinated counties here in the U.S. have something in common: they’ve got a lot of Trump voters. Is that more than correlation in your opinion, and if so, how do you reach skeptics who may be disinclined to trust a Democratic administration?

Andy Slavitt:

Well, Iook, I don’t think we should be isolating the people who are not sure they’re going to take the vaccine. People who aren’t going to take the vaccine of any stripe aren’t sure because they have questions and most of those questions are legitimate questions and should be answered.

We trust the public to be able to do their own homework, they have the ability to figure out whether or not the vaccine is right for them by putting information out. And so, I think we ought to just work hard enough to make sure that we’re getting information to people and trust that if they see that information they’re gonna make the right decision.

And, I do believe that that’s beginning to happen. As you noted, over the course of the last couple of months, the number of people that have gotten comfortable saying they’re gonna take the vaccine has increased pretty significantly

Kyle Midura:

Federal regulators had questions themselves given some of the instances surrounding blood clotting that we saw with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I should note that those were exceedingly rare and remain so.

Dr. Fauci said he expects the pause to come ‘unpaused; again by Friday with a warning. I think a lot of lay people might assume that women who take oral contraceptives might be in that warning group.

Do you anticipate something like that, is that a fair thing for those of us to assume? What if anything can you tell us about who might be in that warning group?

Andy Slavitt:

Well the first thing it’s important to point out is: Americans are getting to see the country’s safety system work up close, real time. It’s exactly what we want to happen.

There are questions, the questions are unanswered, even if those questions are extremely rare, and as you pointed out they are extremely rare. So far, there are six occurrences, and maybe there will be a few more, but out of 130 million people who have taken vaccines, out of 7 million people who taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

So, I know what I want, I want the same thing I think most Americans want, to let those people do their jobs, let the scientists do their jobs. And, whatever answer they come back with when they collect the facts, they will provide the information to the public with or without warnings if they feel they’re appropriate and then we’ll go from there.

And, I think having the public witness this will enhance their confidence that the vaccines they are getting are safe and effective. And, in the meantime, we are so fortunate to have three vaccines, and we have the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been given to over 120 million people, incredibly safely, over 90% effective.

Kyle Midura:

Pfizer’s CEO suggested that those who received their vaccine are likely to need a booster. Do you agree with that assessment? He also suggested an annual shop may be in the cards.

Andy Slavitt:

So, I think he was taken a little bit out of context, so it’s important to clarify this. The Pfizer CEO does not decide whether or not there’s a booster. What the Pfizer CEO’s responsible for doing is preparing to do studies in case, in case a booster ever becomes necessary.

As he subsequently said and as I think our own scientists have said, no, we don’t know what the future will bring. And so, I don’t think Americans should worry. What they should know is down the road whatever scenario comes, if it turns out we need a booster annually or otherwise, that we will be prepared for this. We will have the studies done, we will have the science done, we will have the production done, but there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, yet that says we will need another booster.

Kyle Midura:

Finally sir, Pfizer argues its vaccine is 100% effective in children ages 12-15. If the FDA does sign off, what’s a reasonable time for getting those kids eligible and can we reach heard immunity without school-age children getting vaccinated?

Andy Slavitt:

Well, we like to think we’ve learned how to move fast here, fast in the context of following all the regulatory guidance. So, just as soon as the Emergency Use Authorization is completed by the FDA, and we have every reason to suspect they would be - this is for children 12-16 years old, we will then have a CDC panel which will make a recommendation, and you can expect that we will be ready to go soon after that.

So I think we’re not long for that to happen and then after that hopefully we will soon see younger age groups follow. This is happening exactly as we hoped it would.

Kyle Midura:

Mr. Slavitt, I really appreciate your time today

Andy Slavitt:

Thank you

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