Historic Meeting of U.S. Surgeons General Discusses Equitable Response To Pandemic

Vivek Murthy Surgeons General COVID pandemic BELatina Latinx
Photo: Twitter.

COVID vaccination has become a matter of debate, both in the United States and around the world. The paradox of privilege brings back into perspective the diatribe between an individual right and the commitment to work together against the pandemic.

This reflection seems to be behind the White House’s efforts to bring its vaccination message to often-displaced communities, such as communities of color.

That is why last week, and as part of its campaign to encourage vaccination, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General, and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team convened a historic meeting of all living former U.S. Surgeons General, including Dr. Antonia Novello, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Richard Carmona, Dr. Regina Benjamin, and Dr. Jerome Adams.

These esteemed public health leaders who served under Republican and Democratic presidents discussed the importance of ensuring that communities of color, those most affected by the virus, have the information and access they need to get vaccinated.  And they discussed how we could work together to move forward.

“Today, I want to emphasize one fact that remains true, and that is that the vaccines are working against the Delta variant,” Murthy said. “They are highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.  And they’re also effective at reducing the overall risk of infection.”

The surgeon general highlighted the latest figures from a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that two doses of the mRNA vaccines are 88% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 infection with the Delta variant.

“So, breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people are the exception, not the rule. And when they do happen, the vast majority are mild and asymptomatic — mild or asymptomatic,” Murthy added.

The surgeon general then proceeded to introduce his colleagues, “friends, mentors, and partners,” with whom he highlighted concerns about health misinformation, the importance of ensuring that communities of color and rural areas are not left behind in the vaccination effort, as well as the power of engaging trusted community organizations in vaccination.

“As SGs, we came together from different backgrounds, serving under different political administrations to work together on a path toward ending this pandemic. And we all share the belief that science and public health are what will help us protect our nation from this pandemic,” Murthy said.

As the surgeon general explained, all efforts aim to ensure access and equity in communities of color to information and vaccines, coordinating work with grassroots organizations to fight, especially against misinformation.

Similarly, and in responding to questions from reporters, the group assured that the United States would maintain existing travel restrictions at this time while the government works on a phased approach to some type of vaccination requirement.

Dr. Murthy also highlighted the significant movement in the private sector to essentially develop vaccine verification efforts while coordinating public protocols to help vaccinate the majority of the population and successfully deal with a virus that could still surprise us.

Thus, Dr. Murthy closed the conversation by reminding us that “We rise and fall as one nation.”