Rochelle Walensky disappointed but not surprised by COVID-19 vaccine disparities


“I wish I was in a better place.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky was part of a panel for the Globe Summit 2021 to share her experience as CDC director during the COVID-19 pandemic. Erin Clark / The Boston Globe, Dossier

The number of COVID-19 cases has grown rapidly over the past month, with the average daily number of deaths from the disease in the United States surpassing 2,000 last week, The New York Times reported. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday released data showing that the number of people in the United States receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine had declined significantly in recent days.

Health officials continued to press for people to receive the vaccines to lessen the spread of the virus and protect them from worse symptoms. According to the CDC, research found that unvaccinated people were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those fully vaccinated.

However, only 55.2% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated at this time, despite widespread efforts by the Biden administration to distribute the vaccines.

Many of those who are not vaccinated are also those who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as those in the black and brown community and people from the working class who cannot take time off to get vaccinated. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services noted that about 44% of unvaccinated people may be willing to be vaccinated but either cannot afford to do so or are mildly concerned about side effects, among others. information.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, which has spearheaded the federal government’s COVID-19 response, is not surprised by this phenomenon and said she has seen it before with diseases such as HIV.

“I’m disappointed, I wish I was in a better place, but I’m not that surprised, and what I think this lesson really tells us is the power of community, because when you talk to people about their behaviors and about how they engage in health, how they access health, they are the trusted messengers within communities, ”Walensky said on Friday during a panel at the Globe Summit 2021.

Walensky says the second step after developing a vaccine is to engage behavior scientists to understand them and be able to implement them in communities. She cited HIV as a recent example of science and research available but unable to provide access and engagement for everyone in all communities.

Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 has been heavily politicized, from wearing masks to administering vaccines, and has caused a large split in the number of COVID-19 cases in states. Currently, red states such as Texas and Florida are among the hardest hit in the United States with deaths from COVID-19, and vaccination rates also remain low in those regions.

“What disappointed me was the division around politics, rather than being particularly surprised that we had to engage in a lot of behavioral health in order to get people where we need them to be,” he said. declared Walensky.

Although those who are fully vaccinated also contracted COVID-19 from groundbreaking cases, the vast majority of those who received the vaccine stayed out of hospital and avoided death. On the recommendations of the CDC, the Biden administration plans to roll out booster injections for those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recently recommended extending booster shots only to the elderly and high-risk youth. However, Walensky disagreed on Friday morning, recommending that high-risk workers, such as those working in healthcare, should also receive the vaccines.

The decision to quash the agency’s advisory committee has been hailed by other health officials, including local doctors.

“ACIP’s vote against recalls for people at high risk (ie HC workers) was a mistake. Dr Walensky fixed it, ”said Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, in a statement. Tweeter. “That’s why it’s good to have a strong CDC manager. “

Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases Clinical Director Dr Paul Sax called ACIP’s vote dumb in a Tweeter, suggesting that Walensky’s decision may have been prompted by personal frontline experiences she had while at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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