Boosters will extend and enhance protections against COVID, Murthy says

Oct 22, 2021
Originally published on October 22, 2021 8:30 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we're joined now by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Surgeon General, welcome back to the program.

VIVEK MURTHY: Well, thank you so much Steve. It's nice to be with you again.

INSKEEP: A few questions about the extra shots - is it urgent for me to get another shot or just something I can do when I get around to it?

MURTHY: Well, it's a great question. It turns out that this is an option now that people have. We don't want people to feel that they need to rush out today and get their shot immediately at their six-month mark if they got Pfizer or Moderna and they're eligible or at their two-month mark if they got J&J. But getting it, you know, as close to that as you can is not a bad idea.

INSKEEP: Is it the last shot that I'm likely to need?

MURTHY: Well, that's a great question. And that requires a bit of looking into the future, which none of us are amazing at doing. But we are going to have to follow the data over time and specifically see how people's protection holds up. You know, do they still continue to have a high protection against infection, against hospitalization, disease - the worst - and death, rather - the worst of COVID. And if their protection holds up, then this might be the last that we need for some time. And if it doesn't, then we'll be prepared with advice on what additional shots people need down the line.

INSKEEP: Could we end up getting a COVID shot every year, like the flu shot?

MURTHY: It's certainly a possibility. It's also a possibility that we end up having, effectively, a three-shot series with Pfizer or Moderna or a two-shot series with J&J that lasts for several years. The history of vaccines really has the history of both options. You have the flu vaccine, for example, which is given on an annual basis. You have vaccines like Hepatitis B, which you get three shots, and then you're good for many years.

INSKEEP: Obviously we're in a political fight over vaccine mandates. Most Americans approve of them according to surveys - big majorities, in fact. But some still don't. They feel passionately about it. We have Denis McDonough, the head of the VA, on the program elsewhere today. VA of course has this federal vaccine mandate. Seventy percent of their employees have submitted documentation of their vaccination, but a lot have not. Should people under vaccine mandates also be mandated to get the extra shot?

MURTHY: Well, for the time being, Steve, the CDC has maintained its current definition of fully vaccinated as getting two shots of Pfizer or Moderna or one shot of J&J. And so that will likely be where the requirements fall as well. Now, could that change over time as they get more data and assess more data? It's certainly possible. But for now the definition of fully vaccinated remains the same. And that's what will be used for the requirements that you hear about around the country.

INSKEEP: So that for now means, no, you don't have to get the extra shot to qualify, to meet a mandate.

MURTHY: That is correct.

INSKEEP: I want you, if you can, Surgeon General, to address the vaccine skeptics who are out there in large numbers - people resisting mandates, who feel on unhappy about them. I'll even mention, there are members of my family across the country who were reluctant to get vaccinated and even people who've been vaccinated, who believe in the science but said they don't agree with mandates. They think it should be a choice. Will you answer their question - if a person has decided that they don't believe they need a vaccine for their personal protection, for whatever reason - if they've made that decision, why should they be made to get it?

MURTHY: Well, that's a really important question, Steve. And it gets at the heart of - there's a difference between being 300 million people versus being a community, one nation where our decisions sometimes affect other people. We've made decisions as a society in the past that - on the freeway, for example - that everyone can't just make their own decision about how fast they drive because how fast you drive may affect my safety and well-being. So we have speed limits.

We find with vaccines as well, with infectious diseases more broadly, that when somebody is sick, they have the unfortunate ability to infect other people inadvertently. So your health makes a difference to my health. The vaccine requirements are an effort to make workplaces safer, schools safer, settings where people, you know, buy goods, in grocery stores and other places like that, safer. And that's why they are so important. They're a time - you know, old tradition. We've been doing mandates in this country since almost the beginning. George Washington was the first to require soldiers to be inoculated. Schools started in the 1800s with vaccine requirements. So this is not new. They also work very well to increase vaccination rates.

Finally, Steve, let's just put this all in context. You know - we are in a moment right now where we thankfully have a lot of things to look forward to and good news. We see cases declining. We have boosters now as an option for millions of people, which will extend and enhance their protection. We have vaccines for kids that may be on the horizon. And we also have millions of children, including mine, who are back in school. So I'm cautiously optimistic. But my message to people is, please stay vigilant. Please make sure that you get vaccinated if you are unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated, help other people to get vaccinated. And please wear your mask in indoor public spaces. That's how we will get through this pandemic. And I'm optimistic that we will.

INSKEEP: Just get a couple of seconds left, but you mentioned your kids in school. How soon do you expect vaccines for kids under 12?

MURTHY: The FDA is looking at this data right now. Their advisory group is meeting at the end of this month - the CDC's advisory group meeting just a week after that. And so I anticipate within a few weeks we should have a decision.

INSKEEP: Vivek Murthy is the surgeon general of the United States. Surgeon General, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

MURTHY: Thank you so much, Steve. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.