Dear CDC

By ROB LAMBERTS MD

I am a primary care doctor and have been a big fan for a long time. Your common sense science-based approach to problems has given me an anchor to which to give reasonable and rational recommendations for the care of my patients. You’ve (largely) stood above the clamor of the masses, the pressure from pharmaceutical companies, and the wishes of politicians and have stood on the evidence, the science.

But things got a lot harder last year, didn’t they? Suddenly there as an unprecedented situation with COVID-19 that put you front and center. To make matters worse, it was an election year in a very divided country. While you continued to try to remain above the fray, politicians, pundits, and even the common person on Facebook had a very strong opinion about how you were operating, what you were saying, and how you were (or weren’t) leading.

I know it was a difficult circumstance. People don’t realize that science is a process, and we were all faced with a threat about which we knew very little. Do we wear masks? Do we socially distance? Do we close schools? What treatments are effective, what treatments are ineffective, and what treatments are unclear and need further study. I realize science works that way (it’s been that way ever since I became a doctor), but for most people this was their first glimpse into the often unclear nature of the scientific process. We go from a point of not knowing and accumulate data to come up with best answers. But many times those best answers are met with new data that contradicts and causes those best answers to need changing. It’s confusing to people when the CDC changed what they recommend, but it’s science.

You did your best. The politicians and pundits (not to mention the attention-seeking “experts” on YouTube and Facebook) are largely to blame for the confusion, and certainly they didn’t accept science for what it is. They wanted the “right” answers now! That’s not how it works, and I realize that.

So I approach this with great caution. I want you to know how much I like and respect you, and feel like you’ve done a pretty good job, considering just how horrible the political stuff has been around you.

But I think you are getting the vaccine all wrong.

No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t give it. I think the development of the vaccine so rapidly is actually one of the greatest public health accomplishments ever…of all time. Especially with the incredible efficacy of the available vaccines. You surpassed our wildest dreams in that.

But people are still scared of the vaccine, and some are resisting it for “political” reasons. One survey said that 1/3 of Republicans were not going to get the vaccine. We need them to get it. We need to change their mind. While your recent loosening of mask requirements for vaccinated adults was a step in the right direction, I think you are being too cautious. You are considering the risk of vaccinated adults still spreading the virus and not considering the risk of all those people who are too scared (or politically deluded) to get the vaccine. You need to be more bold. You need to up the ante. You need to do what’s best for the health of everyone, which is clearly to get them all vaccinated. Here’s what you need to say.

ALL PEOPLE WHO ARE VACCINATED DON’T NEED TO SOCIAL DISTANCE OR WEAR MASKS ANY MORE.

Yeah, yeah, I understand that there still is risk. But the risk of that 1/3 of Republicans, the risk of the significant percentage of nurses not getting vaccinated, the risk of the huge percentage of the under 50 crowd who don’t fear the disease enough to take the “risk” of the vaccine, those risks are much higher. We need herd immunity. We need vaccinated people.

Do it. Be bold. Be radical. Make it in their best interest to get the damn shot and not delay.

Please.

Rob Lamberts is a primary care physician based in Augusta, Georgia. He is a longtime contributor to the Deductible. This post also appears on his personal blog, Musings of a Distractible Mind.

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