Biden’s top Covid adviser wishes he got tangled up with Tucker Carlson

Kesler: Many things have contributed to people’s feelings about the virus and vaccines. I don’t think we should underestimate the effect the past few years have had on all of us. It was a major upheaval for society and there is not a family that is not affected by it. Anything this traumatic is going to produce very strong feelings.

The fact is that 226 million people received their primary series and 94% of people over the age of 65 were vaccinated. When was the last time 226 million people agreed on anything, did something?

We have to be realistic about what people are going to do. There are many things in public health that we would like people to do but not do. Taken as a whole, we have done quite well, considering the scale of the disruption caused by this pandemic.

Cancryn: What about those politicians, lawmakers and pundits who have made their mark to question this progress, question vaccines and the need for a continued response?

Kesler: Here comes the difficult part. Questioning is an integral part of science. Questioning is always important to learn and improve what we do.

But there is a difference between questioning and undermining basic facts. Create enough doubt that people say, well, maybe I don’t need to do this.

I have already experienced this. In 1952, with the first data that smoking caused cancer. The industry mantra was “unproven, unproven, unproven”. It created enough doubt to give people a crutch that didn’t want to give up. It gave them a reason to keep smoking.

These vaccines are not perfect. But certainly, if you are over 50, if you have risk factors, the risk/benefit ratio [ratio] is just overwhelming. So yes, ask questions. But make sure that the people who need it, whose lives are really in danger, take advantage of a very important potentially life-saving tool.

Cancryn: It’s interesting that you see parallels with the tobacco playbook.

Kesler: I don’t think it’s intentional. I just think you have to be careful when you put doubt in people’s minds. If you inject that doubt, it makes the job that much harder to get people to do things when it’s already hard to get people to do things that are in their health interest.

Cancryn: The difference this time around is that many of those injecting that doubt are now the leaders of one of the two main political parties.

Kesler: There are certainly those who use it for any rhetoric, but I think a majority of the country is going to put that aside. The fact is that 226 million people received the first series. Things are scrambling, a lot of those who criticize vaccines, I quietly think they got the vaccine.

Cancryn: So you feel some optimism that when it comes to public health and science, most of us are still operating with the same set of shared facts.

Kesler: The last three years have been so intense, the stakes have been so high, we have learned so much. We made mistakes. I just think, give it time. But without a doubt, we need to do a better job on misinformation, because this virus is not done with us yet.

Cancryn: Do you think there is an identifiable solution to this misinformation? Take Tucker Carlson, for example, who has a large following and has shown a willingness to question and inject doubt into just about anything. Doesn’t it worry you that he has a platform to take things that should be scientifically settled, raise them and challenge them?

Kesler: I saw it as my job to make sure that if you wanted a vaccine, if you wanted an antiviral, it was there, it worked, you didn’t have to live in fear of dying from this disease. I made very few public appearances; others have.

But early on, I told someone I’m close with that I really wish I could go on with Tucker Carlson and have this conversation.


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