U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says the COVID-19 vaccine, which was made available to all Americans older than 16 as of Monday (April 19), is a landmark moment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), have announced the vaccine is available so that younger Americans can also be protected against contracting and transmitting coronavirus, which is still infecting 67,000 Americans each day.
“Today, everyone is eligible for a vaccine in all 50 states. I remember advising President Biden that we're going to need a vaccine, ultimately to get out of this pandemic, Murthy said in an interview with BET on Monday. “But to know that a year later, that we would not only have a vaccine but we have multiple vaccines to know that we would have administered over 200 million shots, and that we would now have every person 16 or older eligible that that's an extraordinary amount of progress in a relatively short amount of time.”
Murthy says getting to this moment didn’t happen overnight. He says he understands that the average person might be skeptical that the technology advanced so quickly, but the vaccines, which he says have been in development for more than two decades, are safe and effective.
“We haven't just applied (the technology to create mRNA vaccines) to COVID, they've also been rigorously tested in large clinical trials that involve people of color. It involves people of all ages, and that's what's helped give us so much confidence in these vaccines,” said Murthy.
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Black Americans have disproportionately been affected by the Coronavirus, racking up nearly 15% of all deaths due to the virus. Black Americans die at 1.4 times the rates of whites, and Black women are three times likelier to die once infected when compared to white men.
When it comes to vaccinations, the disparities continue. The CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for just over half (55%) of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among this group, nearly two thirds were White (65%) and 9% were Black.
Murthy says part of the issue in getting more Black people vaccinated had to do with the less than optimal rollout of the vaccine program.
“We have to make sure we are increasing the number of community vaccination centers and making sure that we have mobile units that can go into hard to reach neighborhoods,” he said. “(The Biden/Harris Administration and the CDC) must make sure that health centers have a direct supply of vaccines, and now we’re increasingly getting more pharmacies online. As of today 90% of people in America live within five miles of a pharmacy that will now be administering the vaccine. We’ve got to keep increasing those access points.”
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According to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, more than 31 million people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 567,000 have died. Murthy says considering the choices are to be vaccinated or to take the risk of contracting COVID-19, more and more Americans are deciding to protect themselves.
“We've got two vaccines that are actively being given the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And real world data is telling us that these are really effective in reducing the cases of COVID and in saving lives,” he said. “That's why we're really encouraging everybody to get the information you need to understand about these vaccines and then make an appointment to get vaccinated, that's how we're going to turn this pandemic around.”
To date, more than 2 million vaccinations have been given in the USA, with more than half of adult Americans receiving at least one dose. 25% of American adults are fully vaccinated against the disease.