US ‘underestimated vaccine hesitancy’, outgoing health chief admits

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The retiring head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) admitted on Sunday that top public health officials in the US underestimated the level and ferocity of resistance many Americans would show towards a vaccine for Covid-19 as the virus continues to kill thousands across the country.

Dr Francis Collins, who is resigning from NIH before the end of 2021, told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Saturday that he and others “underestimated the vaccine hesitancy issue” when efforts were underway to develop the Covid-19 vaccine last year and begin a nationwide distribution program in 2021.

“Looking back, I think we underestimated the vaccine hesitancy issue. We were so totally devoted to try to get the best science brought forward to make these vaccines happen and to make sure they were safe and effective,” said Dr Collins.

“[Y]es, surely people will come around. Yeah, some people are a little sceptical, but as they begin to see the benefits, we won't really run into that much resistance, will we?” Dr Collins said, describing the prevailing mood at the time.

Watch: Hospital CEO fears vaccine mandate will push employees to quit

He went on to blame the persistent spread of Covid-19 misinformation and false claims about vaccines for the deaths of thousands of Americans every week from Covid-19.

“I wish we had somehow seen that coming and come up with some kind of a MythBuster approach to try to block all of the misinformation and disinformation that's gotten out there, all tangled up in politics and which is costing lives,” he said.

Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation has been rampant on social media in recent months as well as just in everyday life, where millions of Americans are still adamant about their refusal to get vaccinated. Reasons for their refusals range from outright lies parroted by some right-wing political commentators and politicians, as well as simple resistance to the pressure exerted by friends, family members or workplaces to receive the vaccines.

According to a tracker operated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 77 per cent of Americans ages 12 and above have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden recently announced that his administration will require all employers with 100 or more workers to institute mandates that present a choice for employees: get vaccinated or submit to regular Covid-19 testing.

Resistance to that mandate has swelled in conservative circles, and follows similar resistance to mask-wearing, social distancing, and other preventative measures aimed at slowing the virus’s spread that have defined the responses of many conservatives to the pandemic thus far.

Watch: Vaccine hesitancy among parents of young children

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