Dr. Rochelle Walensky on the COVID-19 Pandemic, Vaccines, and Return to Normalcy
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, discusses the current state of the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccinations, and a return to normal life.
Air Date: May 27, 2021
Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Featured Guests: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The United States has started to return to both physical and economic health thanks to a successful coronavirus vaccine rollout and subsequent relaxed CDC guidelines for vaccinated individuals. Though the country’s reopening has given cautious optimism to many Americans, it also raised logistical questions about the path forward.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), answered some commonly-asked questions and shared her insights on the pandemic and beyond with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
America’s Progress in Vaccination and a Return to Normalcy
Walensky notes the U.S. has made a lot of progress since vaccines became widely available in early 2021.
“Our progress here in the United States has really been extraordinary each week,” Walensky emphasized. “We’ve had fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer deaths … and our data show our vaccinations are working.”
She reported that more than 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 62% have received one dose. Additionally, the authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12 through 15 — an additional 16 million individuals in the U.S. — will help increase immunization rates.
“We’re working closely with governors, with local leaders … [to] make data-driven policies to safely get back to our old activities,” Walensky added.
Addressing the Global Pandemic: The United States’ Three-Part Strategy
While the United States has made significant progress in managing COVID-19, other countries have struggled to manage outbreaks and variants of the disease.
“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” said Walensky. “So a key pillar of our comprehensive strategy to defeat COVID-19 is to help end this pandemic around the world.”
To this end, the United States has adopted a strategy to address the global pandemic centered around three pillars: vaccination, supplies, and global coordination.
“We’re becoming an arsenal for vaccines by sharing surplus U.S. vaccines and increasing vaccine manufacturing here at home and around the world,” the CDC director continued. “We’re … surging supplies and offering assistance. And we are … marshaling multilateral efforts with our global partners.”
Eliminating Vaccine Barriers and Healthcare Disparities
While the science supports the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine, some communities are trailing behind in vaccination rates. Factors range from vaccine hesitancy to inequities in the healthcare system.
“We really need to understand that this is an individual decision and everybody has their reasons and concerns,” explained Walensky. “For those who might be hesitant … we really have to meet them where they are.”
She explained that businesses can reduce some of these barriers by providing on-site immunizations and educational resources, which would give employees the time and information they need to comfortably receive the vaccine.
The CDC director also stated that broader healthcare disparities, specifically for minority populations such as Black and Latino Americans, are contributing to unequal vaccine distribution.
“Racism is a serious public health threat and is the root cause of many health disparities and serious public health issues,” Walensky said. “We need to work on health literacy strategies in order to advance health equity.”
While Progress Has Been Made, the Pandemic Isn’t Over Yet
Though increased vaccinations and relaxed CDC guidelines have signaled a light at the end of the tunnel, Walensky cautioned against thinking the pandemic is over.
“I certainly worry about variants that have the potential to evade our vaccines … [and] I’m worried that not everybody’s going to step up to get the vaccine,” Walensky said. “I worry about the complacency of people who have not been vaccinated who’ve opted to stop the mitigation strategies.”
“I worry that … the people who bore the largest brunt of this pandemic in terms of disease, severity, and deaths are not getting the outreach that they need in terms of vaccinations,” she continued.
“I’m really glad that America is feeling cautiously optimistic, as am I — but we are not done.”