Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has warned that the demonisation of Covid-19 jabs could spill over into childhood immunisation programmes and lead to outbreaks of disease.
Dr Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times that political divisions in public health was preventing a “laser-beam focus” on the common enemy — coronavirus. Some US states were not promoting Covid vaccination, while Congress was blocking billions of dollars of funding, both of which were holding back the national response to the pandemic, he said.
“I’m concerned that the acceleration of an anti-vaxxer attitude in certain segments of the population . . . might spill over into that kind of a negative attitude towards childhood vaccinations, which would be very tragic,” said Fauci.
“If you fall back on vaccines against common vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, that’s where you wind up getting avoidable and unnecessary outbreaks”.
The state of New York declared an emergency last week following the detection of poliovirus in wastewater in several counties. In July doctors diagnosed the first case of paralytic polio in the US in a decade in Rockland, a county which has a poliovirus vaccination rate of 60 per cent for children aged two years — well below the 95 per cent level needed for herd immunity.
Rockland also suffered a measles outbreak in 2018-2019, which saw 312 people fall sick and was linked to low measles vaccination rates in the county.
In July the World Health Organisation released data showing the largest sustained decline in global childhood vaccinations in three decades due to disruption caused by Covid. However, a recent study suggest only a one percentage point fall in US coverage rates for the main childhood vaccinations between 2020 and 2021.
But the Biden administration is concerned the stark political divides that have hampered the rollout of Covid jabs in the US could encourage anti-vax attitudes to spread. Just two-thirds of Americans have received two Covid jabs while only a third have got a booster, well below the coverage rate in most other developed nations.
Public health officials need to step up efforts to counteract misinformation on social media and improve communication to build public trust in vaccines and public health, said Dr Fauci. He called on state governments and Congress to “pull together” to support efforts to end the pandemic and strengthen public health, including vaccination efforts.
Fauci, who has become a focus for Republican criticism of the government’s Covid response, did not name any state governments or politicians who have allegedly fuelled anti-vaccine sentiment.
But several health experts and doctors have criticised prominent Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas, for leading efforts to block vaccine mandates.
In June, DeSantis opposed Covid jabs for children and falsely claimed they had “zero chance of getting anything”.
Fauci said his decision to step down as head of the National institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in December was not motivated by political attacks. He said he wanted to use his experience to “lecture, write and get involved in projects that inspire the younger generation of scientists”.