Vaccine mandates can become a ‘political battleground,’ former FDA commissioner says

YouTube on Wednesday announced it will remove videos that spread false information about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine and any other commonly used vaccines. Accounts associated with several prominent figures — such as Robert Kennedy Jr. — who spread false claims, will also be removed. William Brangham discusses the move with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, YouTube today announced it will remove videos that spread false information about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 and any other commonly used vaccines.

    Accounts associated with several prominent figures, such as Robert Kennedy Jr., who spread false claims, will also be removed.

    As William Brangham reports, it's part of an ongoing fight against misinformation.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Amna.

    Misinformation has certainly increased vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. It's partly why America now lags behind many industrialized nations in vaccine uptake, with just 56 percent of the country fully inoculated.

    For the latest on our vaccination efforts, I'm joined now by Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He ran the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019, and he is a member of Pfizer's board of directors. He's just out with a new book called "Uncontrolled Spread" about why the virus hit America so hard and what we can do to stop it doing so again.

    Dr. Gottlieb, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    So, YouTube says, OK, we're going to start cracking down on these sites, we're going to kick them off for anyone that is publishing misleading or false information about the vaccine. What do you make of the move? Is this going to help, or is the horse already out of the barn?

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former FDA Commissioner:

    Well, look, I think it's late to be doing this.

    I think that the social media platforms do have a responsibility to provide some editorial supervision on what goes on their sites. I applaud the move that they're taking.

    We need to recognize that this information isn't just being exchanged between individuals. There are deliberate efforts under way to spread objectively false information and information designed to confuse people and deceive them about the vaccines.

    There was a report earlier this year about the Russian government being behind some these efforts. And so this is quite deliberate, quite organized in certain respects. And I think the social media platforms have a responsibility not to be conduits for this kind of deliberate misinformation.

  • William Brangham:

    And, as I mentioned, we know that this is having some effect on people's hesitancy to take the vaccine.

    The Biden administration, when they looked at our relatively low vaccination rates, said — I mean, after a long time of resisting mandates, they said, OK, we are going to institute mandates, employer mandates.

    Did you think that that policy made sense, policy-wise, to get more Americans vaccinated?

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb:

    Well, look, we first should recognize the extraordinary accomplishment, including of the Biden administration, getting people vaccinated.

    Fully 78 percent of people over the age of 18 have at least one dose of vaccine. Most of them will complete the series. So we have done a lot of good work getting people vaccinated. Vaccinating the next 2 percent of the population is going to be a lot more difficult than it was to vaccinate the first 20 percent.

    The people who are holdouts are holdouts for a reason. Some of them are more reluctant to take the vaccine. Some of them are harder to reach. So this is going to be a hard campaign getting additional Americans vaccinated.

    In terms of the mandates themselves, I think the administration is well within their prerogative to mandate vaccination among the federal work force. I also think health care workers should be required to get vaccinated, given the risk that it could pose to those they're trying to provide care for.

    I think when you're putting mandates on private businesses, that gets into territory where we're going to start to create divisions across society. People are going to oppose those kinds of mandates when you're mandating on private businesses. That turns something that's furtively political, the issues, the debate around vaccination, into something that's subjectively political, where now you're going to a politicians literally running against those mandates.

    So, just as I don't believe governors should be preventing private businesses and local communities from imposing mandates, I don't think the federal government should be stepping in to impose those requirements on small businesses. I think that this is going to become too much of a tense ground now that we're mandating this on smaller and medium-sized businesses.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, thus far, we have seen, at least in the initial reports, that most of the companies that have enacted this mandate, even though it's not fully out yet, have had relative success. Like, they have seen their numbers tick up.

    Do you think, I mean, partisanship aside, that it might actually have the goal as intended, which is to save more lives?

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb:

    Look, I think it will save more lives, and I think you will get more people vaccinated.

    But to the extent that these are collective decisions — and I believe the decision to get vaccinated isn't just an individual choice. There's a collective element to it, because your decision not to get vaccinated is putting at risk people in your community.

    So, to the extent that they are collective decisions, I think the far preferable approach would be let the communities make those decisions. So let businesses make that decision their own, because they believe the only way to protect their work force or their customers is through vaccination. Let a local school board make that decision.

    I recognize that that's not always feasible, that you have a lot of holdouts, you have a lot of businesses resisting this. So I understand why the administration stepped in to try to force these decisions. But to the extent that they're doing that, they're now creating a political battleground around vaccinations, that you're going to have other people opposing it.

    And the question is, how much are we going to pick up in terms of increased vaccination? I said we're at 78 percent of adults right now. I believe we would have gotten easily to 80 percent just on a normal trajectory. So, where are we going to end up, maybe at 85 percent, a little bit higher?

    So you might pick up a couple of extra percentage points in terms of the amount of Americans, adults, that are vaccinated, but you're going to pay a consequence for that in terms of turning this into more of a political debate.

    So, we have to carefully weigh those competing interests.

  • William Brangham:

    I want to ask you about vaccinating kids.

    We know Pfizer, on which you — on the board which you sit, just submitted its data for 5-to-11-year-olds. How likely do you think that that will be approved? And when do you think kids might start getting vaccinated in this country?

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb:


    So, the company started submitting clinical data yesterday. They're going to continue to submit data to the agency. It's sort of a rolling submission. I think that on — that you could see a vaccine available for children ages 5 to 11 as soon as the end of October.

    If it slips a little bit, I think sort of the base case may be by mid-November. Obviously, it's subject to FDA's careful review of that data and the agency agreeing that the data supports authorization of the vaccine.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA, thank you very much.

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb:

    Thanks a lot.

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