Biden should credit Trump to ‘depoliticize’ COVID vaccines, ex-HHS secretary Azar says

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is calling on President Biden to give his predecessor credit for developing the COVID vaccine through “Operation Warp Speed,” in order to “depoliticize the issue” and blunt people’s resistance to getting the shots.

“Conservatives need to do our part, and the Biden administration must find voices that will be trusted in conservative communities to explain the data and integrity of the vaccine programs. They would also do well to continue to acknowledge the historic achievement of the Trump administration in expediting these vaccines,” Azar wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday in the New York Times.

“I’m not naïve about the partisan issues and the mistrust between parties at play — but a measure of political graciousness could go a long way to depoliticize the issue,” he said.

Azar said he supports the Biden administration’s urging all Americans to get vaccinated to beat the pandemic.

“It would be tragic to see more lives needlessly lost when we are so close to beating this virus once and for all,” he said.

Azar, who as HHS secretary in the Trump administration played a critical role in “Operation Warp Speed,” said the coronavirus is “nonpartisan” and the vaccines have “no political bias, either.”

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
Alex Azar served as Health and Human Services secretary under former President Donald Trump
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

He said the “reluctance and even refusal” of some Americans to be inoculated is a “frustrating irony” for those who worked to develop the vaccines and get them distributed across the country to combat the pandemic.

“While the vaccines have had doubts cast upon them by politicians throughout their production and rollout, whether a person lives in a red or a blue state has no bearing on the vaccines’ efficacy. They work incredibly well, and more than 160 million fully vaccinated Americans are proof,” he said.

“Whether such skepticism is rooted in political misgivings, conspiracy theories or lack of accurate and timely information, there are still millions of Americans unwilling to take the simplest of steps to end this pandemic,” Azar said, adding that health experts must be honest about how “safe and effective the vaccines are and urge vaccination.”

President Joe Biden.
Alex Azar called on the Biden administration to “find voices that will be trusted in conservative communities to explain the data and integrity of the vaccine programs.”

As the head of HHS, Azar said he oversaw the development, testing, approval and distribution of the vaccine from April 2020 to January.

“After leaving office, I watched with pride as vaccination rates rose through the early months of the year, and then with dismay as the daily number of vaccinations declined,” he said.

Citing a recent poll that found that 43 percent of Republicans said they haven’t gotten the vaccine and “definitely or probably” wouldn’t, Azar said he wished former President Donald Trump would have wielded his considerable influence with conservatives.

A registered nurse gives a COVID-19 vaccine.
Alex Azar said the reluctance or refusal of some Americans to get the shot is a “frustrating irony” for those who worked to develop the vaccines and get them distributed.
Sipa USA via AP

“I’m glad former President Trump got vaccinated, but it would have been even better for him to have done so on national television so that his supporters could see how much trust and confidence he has in what is arguably one of his greatest accomplishments,” he said.

And he called on Republican leaders to “double down on encouraging vaccination,” and credited Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) for their efforts to promote the vaccines. 

He vouched for the safety of the vaccines even though they remain under emergency-use-authorization instead of full approval by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
Alex Azar called on Republican leaders to “double down on encouraging vaccination.”
AFP via Getty Images

“It’s vital for Democratic and Republican leaders to explain clearly and repeatedly that the F.D.A. held these vaccines to such high standards that the only real difference is that full approval requires steps like analyzing longer-term safety and efficacy data, and inspecting manufacturing facilities,” he said.

“Hundreds of millions of doses of these vaccines have now been given to Americans over the past year, providing us with some of the most robust real-world evidence of their safety and efficacy that we’ve ever had for new vaccines. A vast majority of adverse events with the vaccines occur in the first 42 days or so,” he continued in the opinion piece. 

“Political, public health and thought leaders must educate about the benefits of the vaccine, not hector or preach. This information must come from respected and trusted figures in the various hesitant communities,” Azar said.

Donald Trump.
Alex Azar also said former President Donald Trump should have addressed vaccine hesitancy.

Members of the Trump administration “hedged our bets” by investing in a number of vaccines “and had tens of millions of doses of vaccine in production by the end of January,” allowing governors to roll out vaccination programs by March.

In reflection, he said the administration could “have done a better job” communicating with the media and the American public about “all that could go wrong with vaccine development and manufacturing,” and the complexities of mass distribution.

He also said the Trump White House should have addressed vaccine hesitancy. 

“More than 600,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, but vaccines can prevent more loss. Getting vaccinated is an absolute necessity to end the pandemic,” he said. 

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