The administration also found itself mired for months in an impasse with congressional Republicans over additional Covid funding. Meanwhile, he scaled back his ambitions and messaging, saying during the latest vaccination campaign last fall that his role was primarily to ensure the vaccine was available to those who wanted it. According to CDC data through May 11, only 20% of adults received last year’s vaccine, a sharp decline from the 79% of adults who received their first round of vaccines in 2021.
The White House has since abandoned efforts to secure more Covid money in the face of solidified Republican opposition, instead agreeing earlier this year to let Congress claw back more than $27 billion in unspent funds in exchange for recovering $5 billion for next-generation vaccines.
“It has now become a politically motivated movement,” said Peter Hotez, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine who has written extensively about the anti-vaccine movement, saying vaccine skepticism has become more entrenched than ever. in the conservative worldview. “But I can’t get any commitment from anyone.”
Hotez is not alone in saying the administration could do more to combat conspiracies and lies, especially as they become more visible during the current presidential cycle. DeSantis has made opposition to Covid precautions a central part of his campaign, most recently claiming without evidence that the latest vaccine was neither safe nor effective. And even Trump, who oversaw the record-breaking development of the initial Covid vaccine, acknowledged that it was doing him no favors with GOP voters, vowing that he “is not going to talk about it one way or another.” other “.
“I would like to see the surgeon general really take charge of this, as well as the secretary of HHS,” Gostin said. “They could both do a lot of good by approaching this issue from a health and medical perspective, not a political perspective.”
Top health officials could step up efforts with local health departments to rebuild trust, experts said, avoiding costly advertising campaigns that government traditionally relies on and favoring lasting partnerships with organizations communities that are not considered intrinsically political.
Health and misinformation experts have long called for the creation of an intergovernmental working group focused on monitoring and organizing responses to misinformation. Others wonder why the White House did not maintain communication with the network of outside public health experts it trained at the height of the Covid response, and who could more freely challenge anti- vaccines as they arise.
“Vaccines just saved the day for this country, and there is no counter,” said another official involved in the Covid response. “What will it take to make the arguments obvious? »
But as the administration turns its attention to Biden’s re-election agenda and leaves the Covid crisis even further behind, it appears that little concerted new energy is being devoted to defending the vaccines behind his success.
In June, Hotez declined an invitation to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, from podcaster Joe Rogan to debate Kennedy and his vaccine claims. This unleashed a torrent of abuse over several days from anti-vaxx accounts that amplified misinformation on the platform.
A number of colleagues, other health experts and even celebrities have publicly joined the battle in Hotez’s defense. Others have reached out privately to offer support. But, Hotez said, he never heard a word from anyone in the administration.
“It would have been nice if there was a call from the White House, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the CDC or whoever to say hello Peter, we support you, and here’s what we’re doing at about the (disinformation) problem,” he said. “Mark Hamill said I support you. So at least I got Luke Skywalker. But no one from the government.