'You have power': US surgeon general shares compelling message about vaccine hesitancy

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On Wednesday, President Biden marked a major milestone in the fight against the coronavirus.

"Today we did it. Today we hit 200 million shots."

Now the challenge - the rate of vaccinations has slowed down.

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ABC7 News Reporter Kate Larsen spoke one-on-one with the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, about vaccine hesitancy and family.

It turns out, America's top doctor is just like us! His young son popped into the Zoom meeting, just as the interview was beginning. "He joins me for like half my meetings," explained Dr. Murthy, who co-chaired President-elect Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board and later transitioned to the role of surgeon general in the Biden administration.

"They're three and four now," Murthy said of his children, "but when they ask us in 10, 15, 20 years, Momma, Poppa what did you do when the country was in crisis? We want to be able to tell them that we stepped up and did everything we could."

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Two of San Francisco's mass vaccination sites only received 500 first doses combined for the entire week, compared to the 10,000 they received in prior weeks. Meanwhile, supply is increasing for parts of the South Bay.



Also like so many families around the country, Murthy has experienced deep personal loss during the pandemic. "I myself, my family, we've lost seven family members."

130 million people in America - 40% - have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. As a result, Dr. Murthy believes thousands of lives had been saved, but vaccine rates seem to be plateauing nationwide. And according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 28% of employed Americans say they won't get the COVID vaccine even if it costs them their job.

"If we get people the right information, the facts, about the vaccines, what the science really tells us, I believe that most people will recognize that these are strong, safe, and effective vaccines that are worth taking," said Murthy.

RELATED: Half of US adults now have received at least 1 COVID shot

President Biden addressed vaccine hesitancy:

"Too many younger Americans may still think they don't need to get vaccinated. So let me explain two reasons why we need everyone over 16 years of age in America to get vaccinated and share what we're going to do to encourage it. The first reason, quite simply, is to keep you from getting very sick or dying. Hundreds of Americans are still dying from COVID every day. The data could not be clearer at this point. If you are fully vaccinated, two weeks beyond your last shot, you are nearly 100% protected against death from COVID, no matter what your age, no matter what your health history. Until you are fully vaccinated you are still vulnerable. The vaccine can save your life. The second reason to get vaccinated is to protect your community, your family, your friends and your neighbors. Vaccines can save your own life, but they can also save your grandmother's life, your co-worker's life, the grocery store clerk or the delivery person helping you and your neighbors get through the crisis. Now, that's why you should get vaccinated."

Murthy says 80% of Americans want to learn about the vaccine from their doctor, while 50% of Americans rely on family and friends to make decisions about COVID vaccines.

"If you're thinking 'I don't have a medical or nursing degree, how can I really help?' I want you to know that you've got family, you've got friends, and that means that you have power, you have people who trust you and if you can help them get the information they need to understand that these vaccines are safe and effective and understand that the downside of getting COVID is serious, then you can help save lives."

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Murthy also says access to vaccines in every community is key. Incentives are also important.

"No working American should lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they chose to fulfill their patriotic duty of getting vaccinated," said Biden Wednesday, who announced a tax credit for businesses who give employees paid time off to get a vaccine or recover from side effects afterwards.

As for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Murthy expects the number of concerning cases of a rare blood clotting disorder to remain small. He says it's likely the CDC and FDA will "un-pause" the vaccine this week. The CDC's ACIP committee meets Friday.

"It's possible if it's un-paused that it may come with some restrictions, potentially based on gender or age, warnings potentially for people considering taking that vaccine," said Murthy, who most importantly wants people to remember that, "millions of people have gotten these vaccines and have done quite well. Vaccines remain our most powerful pathway to taking care of this pandemic."


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