Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor for the White House, warned that tension caused by the politicisation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme could affect routine childhood immunisations. Speaking to the Financial Times, he suggested that the required “laser-beam focus” was distracted from the universal “common enemy”: COVID-19.
The not-so-united states
Apart from Congress “blocking” funding, there has not been a unified response across the states. Fauci believes that state governments and Congress need to “pull together” to bring about the end of the pandemic and strengthen public health. As a poster-boy for Republican criticism of the COVID response, Fauci opted against naming and shaming specific politicians. However, other health experts have identified “prominent Republican governors” such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Texas’ Greg Abbott as “leading efforts to block vaccine mandates”. They haven’t stopped here. In June 2022 DeSantis opposed childhood immunisation against COVID, mistakenly suggesting that they had “zero chance of getting anything”.
A knock-on effect
Fauci warned that anti-vaccination sentiment, or at least vaccine hesitancy, would influence acceptance of necessary childhood vaccinations.
“I’m concerned that the acceleration of an anti-vaxxer attitude in certain segments of the population…might spill over into that kind of a negative attitude towards childhood vaccinations, which would be very tragic.”
Evidence of the importance of these routine vaccinations has recently made itself known in the states with the resurgence of polio. Doctors identified the first case of paralytic polio in Rockland County in July 2022. Rockland has a polio vaccination rate of 60% for children aged 2, which is far below the required 95% for herd immunity. Furthermore, it was host to a measles outbreak in 2018/19.
This is not a uniquely American problem; the WHO recently released data revealing the “largest sustained decline” in childhood vaccinations in 3 decades. This is attributed to disruption caused by COVID. However, the deeply political nature of vaccination in the US has caused concern that anti-vaccination attitudes are prevailing. The Financial Times reported that “two-thirds of Americans” have received two jabs, and “only a third” have been boosted. Unfortunately, this is “well below” the expected and demonstrated coverage rate in “most other developed nations”.
Dr Fauci, who has certainly endured his share of trials and tribulations during the pandemic, recently announced that he would be stepping down as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He denied that this was motivated by the “political attacks” he has experienced, suggesting that he would devote his time to more academic pursuits that “inspire the younger generation of scientists”.
To hear more about vaccine hesitancy and attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccines come to the World Vaccine Congress in Europe, 2022.