The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis S. Collins, said a flood of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines on social media is contributing to vaccine hesitancy and urged people to get their shots and save themselves and their families from preventable death.
The 71-year-old, who is leaving his job at year-end, told MSNBC on Friday that he’s “surprised and kind of disheartened” that there are still close to 70 million people in the U.S. who have not gotten shots, despite more than 700,000 deaths from the virus and amid plentiful evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective.
Collins said he was surprised that quite so many people are opposed to the COVID vaccines. “I didn’t see that coming, and that is disheartening,” he said. “It makes me worry about our country in terms of the inability of swaths of society to be able to distinguish truths from falsehoods. What future do we have if we can’t figure out what evidence is?”
But he maintains hope, he said, that science and expertise can regain the upper hand in the public debate:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker shows that about 56% of the overall U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID, a number that has not moved significantly in weeks. Some 6.76 million people in the U.S. have received a booster shot.
Collins is not the only public health expert to lament the slow take-up of vaccines.
With colder weather now approaching and the highly infectious delta variant of the virus still circulating, it’s urgent that people get their shots, said Collins, responding to a common plaint of the vaccine-resistant population in its own argot:
“Don’t,” he added, “count on Facebook to be the right source of information.”
and other social-media platforms have come under fire for failing to tackle the spread of misinformation about vaccines that has left many people hesitant about rolling up their sleeves. Many are not “anti-vaxxers” per se but have been fed dubious stories about side effects, or encouraged to distrust the speed with which the rollout has happened.
Based in Bethesda, Md., and a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH is the nation’s medical research agency and operates more than two dozen institutes and centers, as the Associated Press reported. It lays claim to being the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world.
Collins was appointed director in 2009 by President Barack Obama and was asked to remain in that post by Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He is the only presidentially appointed NIH director to serve under multiple administrations.
Collins served as director of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008 and led the international Human Genome Project, which in 2003 completed a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book.