Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has warned that the demonization of Covid-19 hits could spread to childhood immunization programs and lead to disease outbreaks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times that political divisions in public health were preventing a “laser beam focus” on the common enemy: the coronavirus. Some US states are not promoting Covid vaccinations, while Congress has blocked billions of dollars in funding, both holding back the national response to the pandemic, he said.
“I worry about the acceleration of an anti-vaxxer attitude in certain segments of the population … it could spill over into that kind of negative attitude toward childhood vaccines, which would be very tragic,” Fauci said.
“If you resort to vaccines against common childhood diseases that can be prevented by vaccines, that’s where you end up with preventable and unnecessary outbreaks.”
New York State declared an emergency last week after poliovirus was detected in wastewater from several counties. In July, doctors diagnosed the first case of paralytic polio in the United States in a decade in Rockland, a county that has a 60 percent polio vaccination rate for two-year-olds, well below the 95 level % required for herd immunity.
Rockland also experienced a measles outbreak in 2018-2019 that sickened 312 people and was linked to low measles vaccination rates in the county.
In July, the World Health Organization released data showing the biggest sustained drop in global childhood vaccines in three decades due to the disruption caused by Covid. However, a recent study suggests only a one percentage point drop in US coverage rates for major childhood vaccines between 2020 and 2021.
But the Biden administration worries that the sharp political divisions that have hampered the rollout of the Covid-19 crackdown in the US could encourage the spread of anti-vax attitudes. Only two-thirds of Americans have received two shots of Covid while only one-third have received a booster, far below the coverage rate of most other developed nations.
Public health officials must step up efforts to counter misinformation on social media and improve communication to build public confidence in vaccines and public health, Dr. Fauci said. He called on state governments and Congress to “come together” to support efforts to end the pandemic and strengthen public health, including vaccination efforts.
Fauci, who has become the focus of Republican criticism of the government’s response to Covid, did not name any state government or politicians who allegedly fueled anti-vaccine sentiment.
But several health experts and doctors have criticized prominent Republican governors, such as Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas, for leading efforts to block vaccine mandates.
In June, DeSantis spoke out against Covid-19 shots for children, falsely claiming they had “zero chance of getting anything.”
Fauci said his decision to resign as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in December was not motivated by political attacks. He said he wanted to use his experience to “donate, write and get involved in projects that inspire the younger generation of scientists.”