We spoke with the Surgeon General about the Biden Administration's latest push to get Americans vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Biden Administration wants to see 70% of eligible Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4th. To make that happen, June has been declared a National Month of Action—and the government has launched several partnerships and programs to help people get vaccinated.
Anheuser-Busch will give away free beer vouchers to eligible adults; CVS is launching a sweepstakes to win a cruise. Kroger launched a "Community Immunity" program to give $1 million to a vaccinated person every week in June and give dozens of vaccinated Americans free groceries for a year. Major League Baseball teams will offer on-site vaccinations at games and give free tickets to those who get vaccinated.
Many parents want to get vaccinated—but they need childcare to cover their appointments and their recovery time. The Biden Administration has a plan for that, too.
Four of the nation's largest childcare providers will offer free childcare to help adults get vaccinated and recover.
KinderCare, Learning Care Group, YMCA and Bright Horizons are taking part. For more information on how to sign up, visit Vaccines.gov.
We spoke with Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy about the Month of Action and how the government is making it easier than ever to get vaccinated. Read on to learn more about the different programs being rolled out across the country, as well as the latest information on vaccine safety for pregnant and nursing women.
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"Surgeon General Murthy Interview"
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On the Month of Action:
Surgeon General Murthy: We are going to be working with doctors and nurses, with teachers and other educators, with barbershop and beauty salon owners, with business owners, with faith leaders, and with many other parts of the community to make sure that we are getting to people with accurate information about the vaccine, that we're reminding them of how important it is to get vaccinated and that we're making it easier to actually get vaccinated, whether that's providing childcare or providing paid time off and tax credits so businesses can make that available to people easier.
[We're also] providing transportation through our partnership with Uber and Lyft and providing easy-to-find information on locations around you where you can get vaccinated. That's all coming together in our Month of Action. It's going to involve thousands of events in communities all across the country, from door knocking campaigns to phone and text banking efforts. What this is really about is people all across America stepping up and helping to protect their communities by helping people get vaccinated.
On the importance of free childcare to help parents get vaccinated:
Surgeon General Murthy: I'll tell you as a parent myself—I have a three- and four-year-old—I know how complicated life can be when you've got small kids. And when you have to think about getting childcare to run errands, which seems to many people to be a relatively simple task, can all of a sudden become really, really complicated very quickly. During the pandemic, we know childcare has been even harder for many people and even more complicated. My wife Alice and I have certainly experienced that ourselves.
What we have done as part of our partnership with several national organizations is to provide childcare through these organizations so the people who want to get a vaccine or need to recover from symptoms can actually have some support in doing that. That's part of the goal here: to knock down as many barriers as possible so that everyone, including parents, can find the time and the support they need to go out and get vaccinated.
On how parents can take advantage of the program:
Surgeon General Murthy: The place where you can get information about the providers themselves is actually on Vaccines.gov. Vaccines.gov is actually a one-stop shop, if you will, for a range of information, from the childcare links and resources to places where you can actually go and get vaccinated. To incentives that companies are offering, to not just their employees, but to customers for getting vaccinated, to, of course, information about the vaccine itself. We know there's a lot of misinformation floating out there. We want people to get the facts because ultimately, your health, your wellbeing, your life can depend on whether you have the facts or not, as you make your decision to vaccinate.
On the different programs within the Month of Action:
Surgeon General Murthy: Many of these initiatives are premised on one fundamental idea—which is that trusted voices in communities are the most powerful resource we have as a country when it comes to getting people the facts and helping them get vaccinated. That's why you see so many communities active here. The partnership we have with barbershops and beauty salons is an example of that. Many people who get their services at barbershops and beauty salons have been doing that for years. They know the staff there, they trust them. And there's a community there, which is really important.
There's a really diverse array of partners you see. This is building on a series of initiatives we've been taking over the last several months where we've been working closely with teachers and educators, with faith leaders, with doctors and nurses, with business leaders and other employers, really with groups all across the country, recognizing that the way we're going to get this done—the way we're going to protect our country from COVID—is with each of us stepping up and doing our part to help dispel information, get people to vaccination sites, and ultimately, know that people are protected from this terrible virus.
On parenting during the pandemic:
Surgeon General Murthy: On a very personal level, I so deeply appreciate everything they've been doing during this pandemic. As a dad myself, I know that many of us as parents do a lot to balance work and childcare. We do it quietly behind the scenes. We don't make a big deal out of it. It has been especially challenging during this pandemic for parents who have not been able to find childcare as easily, for parents who may have struggled to telework and homeschool their children at the same time, which is extraordinarily difficult—I certainly know that from firsthand experience. I'm still struggling to figure out how to make it all work.
With all of that said, one of my hopes is that we will take away, as a society, from this pandemic experience is just an appreciation, a deeper appreciation, for just how challenging and complex experience parenting is in the modern age and how we need to do more as a society to support parents so that they can not only do their jobs well but, most importantly, so that they can be there for their children and support them in their growth.
Some of the things that we are doing right now to make it easier to get vaccinated, like making childcare more available, making it easier to access the vaccines themselves—there are deeper lessons there for the longer term. I think we should be looking at ways to support parents in terms of childcare, in terms of flexible work schedules, in terms of other arrangements we need to take so that a parent can really do their most important job, which is to take care of their child and make sure they can do that without unnecessarily feeling like they're shortchanging their work or having to choose.
On the vaccine's safety for people who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing:
Surgeon General Murthy: It's a great question and I'll tell you, every time I get this question, being a parent of relatively young kids, that time when my wife was pregnant is still very fresh in my mind. And I remember just how, maybe this is too strong a word but my wife would say it's not, how paranoid I was about her health and the well-being of our developing children at the time. So, I think it's absolutely important for pregnant moms, for the people who love them, to think deeply about this question.
The good news is that pregnant women seem to have done quite well with the vaccine. Interestingly enough, we started this effort with healthcare workers. Many pregnant women in the workforce actually got vaccinated. And the CDC has been tracking very closely to see how women have done. The data that they have collected and analyzed continues to show that pregnant women have done very well. That includes women in the postpartum stage who have been nursing. All of this data continues to give us more and more confidence.
For pregnant women, for women who are breastfeeding, that the benefits really do seem to outweigh the risks here. Because the risks are real. We know that when women are pregnant, if they get COVID, they are at a greater risk actually for bad outcomes, both for them as well as the fetus. We want women to be protected, especially during pregnancy. The data so far indicates that it's a low-risk and high-benefit situation for them to get vaccinated.
On America's vaccination rates and progress:
Surgeon General Murthy: I just want to put in perspective where we are right now. If you had told me a year ago when we were in the throes of this terrible pandemic, seeing tens of thousands of people be infected every day, seeing hundreds and in some cases thousands of our people dying every day, not knowing when this pandemic was going to end. If you had told me then that a year from then, we would have not just one but multiple vaccines, that we would have more than 60% of adults in our country vaccinated, that we would be seeing rates of infection and hospitalizations and deaths plummet, in large parts because of our vaccination efforts, I would have said, 'wow, that's a really ambitious, ambitious hope.' But the reality is that's where we are right now.
Even though we have a ways to go, even though we have millions of more people to vaccinate, even though we still have a little under 20,000 infections a day still happening in the country and hundreds of people dying each day from this infection, we have come a long way. That light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter each day. The way we get closer to that light, the way we get closer to the end of this pandemic, is by continuing our effort to vaccinate more people in this country. I just want to put in perspective that we have made extraordinary progress.
If this effort has taught us anything this whole pandemic, it's that we fundamentally need each other. That even though, sure, there's a lot we can do on our own, when it comes to getting through really difficult moments, whether it's a pandemic or other hardships we may face, we really do better when we come together, when we support one another, when we function as one community. My hope is that will be one of the greater lessons we take from this pandemic, something that we continue to live by: the notion that together, we can go farther, we can do better, we can be better than we can alone.
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