Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says “it’s just a matter of time” before COVID-19 booster shots are required, that full FDA approval of the vaccines is coming “very soon” and that the U.S. is not testing enough for the virus to fully understand how the Delta variant is spreading in communities.
On “The Takeout” podcast this week, Murthy also stressed that it’s important for children to wear masks as they return to in-person learning and for schools to test for COVID regularly. Murthy, who served as surgeon general during President Obama’s second term and helped lead the national response to the Ebola and Zika viruses, has returned for a second stint in the Biden administration.
The surgeon general weighed in on the COVID misinformation and disinformation proliferating online, telling “Takeout” host and CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a “moral responsibility” to stop the spread of false information. He feels that the platforms have not been transparent enough about disclosing what effects their interventions against bad actors are having. He added that there has been a “surge” in misinformation that has coincided with the spread of the Delta variant.
The best way to keep children protected from COVID-19 is to make sure kids are wearing masks, that COVID testing is conducted regularly in schools, and that children are not going to school sick, Murthy said. He is also urging Americans to have their children under 12 years of age vaccinated, once the FDA authorizes vaccinations for this age range, arguing that it will be paramount to stopping the spread of the virus.
“We had hoped as a country that we’d be getting our kids back in school when cases were down, down, down and staying down. But we unfortunately got hit with this Delta variant, which is now spreading rapidly, when our kids are getting ready to go back to school,” Murthy said. “We want to get our children not just back to school, but we want to keep them in school. And that requires ensuring that we take every precaution to prevent cases from coming up and from spreading in our schools.”
Murthy suggested that vaccines may be available for children under 12 “before the end of the calendar year,” and getting the vaccines approved for children is “one of the highest priorities for the Food and Drug Administration.”
The surgeon general said he understands that freedom is a “bedrock value” of America that must be protected but said that Americans “have to be mindful that we don’t live in isolation.”
“We live in a community. And there are times where our actions can potentially harm the people around us,” Murthy said. “We don’t drive 120 miles an hour on the freeway because that puts other people at risk. And we don’t say, well, ‘it’s our freedom to drive however we want to, we should be able to do that.’ We recognize that community safety is important.”
Murthy also discussed “booster” vaccines for the general population.
“I think the question is what groups of people should get [booster shots] and what timeframe should be used to administer them,” Murthy said. “Those questions are actually going to — I believe — come into more clear focus very soon.”
- Kids returning to school in the fall: “We had hoped as a country that we’d be getting our kids back to school when cases were down, down, down and staying down. But we unfortunately got hit with this Delta variant, which is now spreading rapidly, when our kids are getting ready to go back to school. So, the good news is that there are precautions that we can take, first of all, to help reduce the risk that our kids get sick. And those precautions include making sure our kids and kids around us are wearing masks and includes making sure that in our schools we are implementing layers of precaution, which include testing regularly when possible, [and] making sure kids stay home if they’re sick so you don’t inadvertently spread virus to other people.”
- Safety of extracurricular activities at K-12 schools during the pandemic: “I think parents have to be aware that there is an increased risk that their child may contract covid if they’re participating in sports that don’t have mask usage and that involve a lot of prolonged close contact.”
- What kinds of masks are best for children as they return to schools: “It’s worth taking some time to look at the quality of masks you’re wearing, because with the highly transmissible virus, it is both wearing the mask and the quality of the mask, that can make a difference… A lot of our kids aren’t used to being indoors for a long period of time with the mask… We’ve got to adjust as we go, but both the mask practices and the quality of the mask going to make a big difference for our children.”
- COVID-19 vaccine mandates: “When the FDA issues its full approval of the vaccine, I think that will make more organizations even more confident in putting those requirements in place. And you also recently… saw the federal government take some steps within the federal workforce and specifically with the health care workforce at the V.A. and with D.O.D. uniformed service members around vaccine requirements. So, I think it’s going to increase their vaccination rates. I think you’re going to see more of it.”
- Balancing personal freedoms and COVID safety rules: “I certainly do think that freedom is a bedrock value of our community and it’s important and we better protect that. But what we also have to be mindful of is that we don’t live in isolation. We live in a community. And there are times where our actions can potentially harm the people around us. We don’t drive one hundred and twenty miles an hour on the freeway because that puts other people at risk. And we don’t say, well, it’s our freedom to drive however we want to… We recognize that community safety is important.”