Chelsea Clinton wants President Trump and his allies to help encourage Americans to get Covid-19 vaccines as they become available.
“If they want to claim credit for the vaccines, if that helps more people get vaccinated, I have a utilitarian view about that,” Clinton said Thursday at the STAT Summit. “Because I think we really will need Trump and need those who are closely associated with Trump, including his allies in the Congress, to be part of the public effort, to show that they themselves are getting vaccinated.”
Clinton, who as vice chair of the Clinton Foundation has made combatting vaccine hesitancy a key part of her public health work, did make it clear that she doesn’t think the Trump administration has done enough to build demand and ensure that Americans will get vaccinated when they can, especially among people who are already hesitant about vaccines.
But Clinton also criticized moves by some Democratic governors, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, to say they were going to have independent experts conduct another review of any Covid-19 vaccines given federal authorization — on top of what regulators at the Food and Drug Administration were doing — before recommending residents in their states get the vaccines. The governors have argued they made those plans out of concern that Trump could prematurely force the FDA to give the greenlight to a vaccine, but experts worry the moves could only exacerbate mistrust in the vaccines, which could start being deployed in the coming weeks.
“That’s terrible,” Clinton said in response to a question from STAT’s senior infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell about the governors’ policies. “As a New Yorker, I think I was aghast when I heard that Gov. Cuomo was going to stand up his own independent verification of the FDA. I certainly hope that he might be inveighed upon to not do that, given the incoming Biden-Harris administration. We need to be buttressing our public health institutions, supporting them — holding them accountable but not further undermining them.”
Clinton also noted that leaders of the anti-vaccine movement had pounced on the pandemic to hinder other efforts meant to slow the transmission of the coronavirus.
“The pre-Covid-19 anti-vaxx movements have really capitalized on all the trauma of this moment and created unholy alliances with the anti-mask movement and other anti-science movements across the country,” she said. “That conspiracy singularity I don’t think is going away.”
But beyond the problem of staunch anti-vaccine activists, polls show a significant and growing number of Americans have some concerns about the anticipated Covid-19 vaccines and say they won’t get them when they are available. Whenever a vaccine first receives FDA authorization, supplies will be so limited that they’ll generally be reserved for frontline workers or people who are susceptible to more severe cases of Covid-19. But for the pandemic to end, the majority of Americans — estimates are in the 60% to 70% range — will need to get immunized against the coronavirus. The longer that process takes, the longer the pandemic lasts.
While Clinton credited scientists who have pushed forward vaccine development at a record pace, she said there should already have been more of an effort to rally people to want to get a vaccine when available.
“While what our scientists have done is extraordinary, we needed to have a commensurate effort to help already build public demand for an eventual and hopefully very soon-to-be Covid vaccine or vaccines, and none of that work has happened,” she said.
In particular, Clinton said, there need to be localized efforts to encourage vaccination among communities of color, who polls show are less inclined to immediately get a Covid-19 vaccine than white people. People of color have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic, but they also have a history and ongoing experience of being mistreated and discriminated against by medical institutions.
“We are losing time every day,” she said. “I don’t want us to fumble around.”
Much of that work would normally fall to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clinton said, but the Trump administration has regularly undermined health authorities’ efforts. CDC experts are discussing the distribution and allocation of Covid-19 vaccines, but Clinton said there should have been more done to build up eagerness for immunizations. She called on the Biden-Harris transition team to “fill the gap,” in part by engaging with community liaisons, like the leaders of historically black colleges and universities or indigenous communities, to mount campaigns with “nuance and specificity.”
“We do need targeted messaging,” Clinton said about connecting with communities of color.
Clinton also said that although social media companies have started to take some steps to combat vaccine misinformation on their platforms, they need to do more to not only respond to people purveying misinformation, but to prevent it in the first place.
Clinton also told the story of how, decades ago, her grandmother took her children — including Chelsea’s mom, Hillary — to get the polio vaccine when it became available. They waited for six hours to get their shots.
“I hope nobody has to stand in line for six hours,” Clinton said about Covid-19 vaccines, “but I want people to be willing to stand in line.”