- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not back mandates that healthcare workers or other essential employees receive COVID-19 vaccines, with a CDC official stating Thursday the agency would prefer instead to "build trust and confidence" in the vaccine candidates.
- Along with state and local governments, the CDC is preparing for a national vaccination program and, as part of that plan, is rolling out a marketing campaign that aims to address worries over vaccine safety. The federal government can't, however, mandate vaccination for people who refuse, although some states require it for school enrollment or in certain occupations.
- The CDC official's comments before a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Thursday come as surveys show decreasing numbers of people say they will get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is available. If all goes well, the first vaccine will likely be made available after less than a year of development, which has raised concerns about safety, and spurred regulators and drugmakers to publicly pledge they won't cut corners.
Vaccine mandates raise thorny legal and ethical questions, and governments at all levels have been reluctant to use their powers to increase immunization rates. The power has largely been applied to children enrolling in schools and in certain high-risk occupations like healthcare workers.
The issue re-emerged as the coronavirus pandemic persisted, and as public doubts grow about whether vaccines first tested in humans earlier this year have undergone sufficient study. Moderna, which on Thursday announced full enrollment of the late-stage study it plans to use to support approval, gave its first shot to a volunteer in March, while BioNTech and Pfizer's vaccine started clinical testing in April.
The CDC is grappling with rising vaccine "hesitancy" just as it prepares to assist in the distribution of millions of doses. The agency's effort includes a campaign it's calling "Vaccinate with Confidence," which aims to disseminate information about authorized or approved COVID-19 shots. The program also intends to make sure healthcare providers and local stakeholders are equipped to answer questions from people considering vaccination.
Mandates, however, will not be part of the strategy, even among healthcare workers, said Janell Routh, medical officer at the division of viral diseases in the CDC's National Center for Influenza and Respiratory Diseases.
"What we need to do is really build trust and confidence in these vaccine candidates," she told the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which met on coronavirus vaccines for the first time Thursday. "We are working hard on our strategy to help people understand that vaccinations are one of the key tools to getting our lives back on track."
Persuading, rather than mandating, vaccination for healthcare workers will be an essential step as they can help spread a positive message once they've received a shot.
Convincing the public to get vaccinated may be a difficult task, though. The Reagan-Udall Foundation, a nonprofit, recently conducted a series of listening sessions with healthcare and retail workers, as well as people identifying as Black, Latino, or indigenous or Native American, to better understand public perception of vaccines.
Participants reported marked distrust of the U.S. government, the Food and Drug Administration and the broader healthcare system. Comments cited by the RUF at the FDA meeting Thursday indicated people were concerned politics and money are being prioritized over science, and about the speed of the clinical testing process so far.
Some were afraid a vaccine may not work for people in their community, and said they would wait for more data to emerge before exploring vaccination. The feedback was "powerful, illuminating and sobering," said Susan Winckler, CEO of the RUF, at the meeting.
The Trump administration has set highly ambitious goals to vaccinate much of the U.S. population by the middle of next year, counting on near flawless execution by the developers of the leading candidates. Moderna, as well as partners Pfizer and BioNTech, look set to be the first to prove whether their vaccines work, and both are planning to request emergency authorizations later this year.
Ben Fidler contributed reporting.