The following is a transcript of an interview with former Surgeon General Jerome Adams that aired on Sunday, July 25, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: We go now to Vice Admiral Dr. Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general in the Trump administration. He joins us from Indianapolis. Good morning, Doctor.
FORMER US SURGEON GENERAL DR. JEROME ADAMS: Good morning, JOHN. Good to be with you.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let’s start with those comments by Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, which is a state that’s had very low vaccination rates. I’ve seen you out talking, trying to cajole, convince people patiently. She obviously took a different approach and hit him right between the eyes. She said, “Folks are supposed to have common sense, but it’s time to start blaming unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.” How do you think that’s going to go over?
DR. ADAMS: Well, I think everyone has a different approach and different levers. I still think there are a lot of people out there who have legitimate questions and who have legitimate barriers. For instance, there are people who have access issues. They’re gig economy workers. There are people who are scared that if they take the vaccine and have side effects, they’re not going to be able to go into- to work the next day and they’re going to miss out on a paycheck or may lose their job. You also asked Dr. Gottlieb, I heard, about kids getting vaccinated. Here’s what worries me, JOHN. We still have no clear timetable on when we can expect FDA licensure of these vaccines for adults. And a lot of people say that that is still causing their hesitancy, number one. But number two, I can tell you the quickest way to get people vaccinated is through mandates. And we can’t have mask mandates. We won’t- you’re hearing this from the military and from other businesses until you have full licensure of these vaccines. So if you want to get a bunch of people vaccinated, really quickly, get the vaccines licensed and then you’ll see the military make it mandatory. You’ll see businesses make it mandatory.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the- the governor’s- she said that- that people are letting us down. Can we do just a brief public service announcement here? A lot of people have talked about the vaccine as individual choice. It’s my choice. Nobody else’s business. Others who’ve been vaccinated say, what do I care if people don’t get vaccinated? I’m protected. Can you just remind people why it’s important beyond just the boundaries of your own body to get vaccinated?
DR. ADAMS: Well, I always say to people, it is your choice, but choices come with consequences to you and to other people. The consequences to other people are that you may put my 11-year-old daughter who can’t get vaccinated at risk. You may put my wife, who is going through cancer therapy at risk, or my mother, who had a stroke last year in the middle of a pandemic, at additional risk, even though both she and my mother are vaccinated. But there’s also real harm to you because, guess what? More mitigation is coming, whether it’s masking or whether it’s closures or whether it’s your kids having to return to virtual learning, that is coming. And it’s coming because this pandemic is spiraling out of control yet again and it’s spiraling out of control because we don’t have enough people vaccinated. So get vaccinated because it helps your neighbors, but get vaccinated because it’s going to help every single American enjoy the freedoms that we want to return to.
JOHN DICKERSON: You wrote a piece this week saying that the CDC should change their guidance on masking, that even if you’re vaccinated, you should get masked. What made you- why do you hold that position?
DR. ADAMS: Well, we need to learn from what happened in the past. And in the past, I was reflecting back on my own statements about masking, and I wish in hindsight I hadn’t been as definitive. I wish I had been humble enough to understand that this is a new virus. I wish that my message had been heard differently. And what I said and what Tony Fauci really were saying was save the medical mask for the medical workers. But what people heard- what they heard was that masks don’t work, which was not the message that we were trying to send moving forward. The CDC put out new guidance in May and that- that guidance, quite frankly, has confused citizens and frustrated businesses and public health officials who I continue to hear from. And it’s been by any quantification of failure. Vaccinations are- are down and cases are up. So it’s time for the CDC, if you don’t want to call it, if you don’t want to say we’re changing the guidance, let’s call it a clarification. Let’s go out there and clarify that, yes, if you were vaccinated and you’re around other people who were vaccinated, you are still probably safe. And I stil, when I’m around vaccinated people, I still don’t wear a mask. But if you’re out in public, if you’re around people who you don’t know whether they’re vaccinated or not, and especially if you’re in a community where prevalence is going up, as Dr. Gottlieb said, it is probably going to be safest for you to mask it whether or not you’re vaccinated or not. And your public health officials who don’t have a good way of knowing or your businesses who don’t have a good way of knowing who’s vaccinated or not, they’re going to have- find that they have no other choice but to call on more people to mask it. And the CDC needs to give those businesses, those health officials, a little bit of cover by clarifying the guidance that they have out there.
JOHN DICKERSON: How effective do you think that will be, though? I think of Florida and Governor DeSantis there, who has basically built an argument on pushing back against these mandates. When the CDC suggested masking for those under 12 in schools, Governor DeSantis said, no, we’re not going to do that here. So the CDC can issue guidelines, but there are a lot of people in unvaccinated areas who are only too happy to push against those guidelines.
DR. ADAMS: Well, there’s always going to be exceptions, and one of the great things about America is that we have the ability state by state, for people to do what they feel is best for their state. But the fact is, for every person you point out like a Governor DeSantis, there are a number of other governors and health officials who say, if you give us cover, we’re going to move in this direction.–
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me–
DR. ADAMS: And businesses still will be able to lean on CDC guidance and say we’re doing this because of the CDC guidance, whereas Wal-Mart said we have no way of telling who is vaccinated or not. So we’re just going to say no mask for anybody. You have the L.A. County sheriff saying we’re not going to enforce a mask mandate because CDC guidance says we don’t have to. We’ve got to give those folks some cover.
JOHN DICKERSON: Doctor, I want to get to the question of overdoses. A record number of overdose deaths last year. This is an issue you’ve worked on that it’s very important to you. Why is the overdose number up?
DR. ADAMS: JOHN, this is personal to me, as I’ve talked about before, I have family members, my own brother, who’s suffering from substance use disorder, and in 2020, we saw the numbers skyrocket. We had a record year in 2019, 70,000 people sadly died of drug overdoses. We blew that away last year because of COVID. 93,000 people died. And we know that both isolation from COVID, stress from COVID, but also cut off of resources, Forty-three percent of people reported decreases in services available through syringe service programs because of the pandemic, have combined to cause this explosion. And it’s disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities, a 20% rise and whites a 30% rise in Blacks and Hispanics in overdose deaths last year.
JOHN DICKERSON: We have 20 seconds. What’s the next step? What can be done?
DR. ADAMS: Well, I’m working with the Bipartisan Policy Committee. I want to applaud Congress for combining their mental health and addiction task forces, and we need to really ramp up telehealth services, which came about because of COVID, which are really the silver lining here in terms of making services more available. There is hope, but we’ve got to be able to pay attention to it.
JOHN DICKERSON: Alright, Dr. Adams, I’m sorry we’ve run out of time. Thank you so very much for being with us today. And we’ll be right back in a moment. Stay with us.