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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Local ‘Trusted Messengers’ Key To Boosting COVID Vaccinations, Surgeon General Says

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Photo by Caroline Brehman AFP via Getty Images

Vivek Murthy testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing to be surgeon general on Feb. 25. Murthy tells NPR there's more work to do in convincing people, especially in rural communities, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Updated May 5, 2021 at 10:25 AM ET

The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations is slowing down — not because of any vaccine shortage, but because some Americans don't want to get vaccinated.

President Biden addressed this on Tuesday, announcing a change to his national vaccination strategy that will include moving distribution away from mass vaccination sites to concentrate on more local areas. Biden says his goal is to get 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4th.

In an interview Wednesday with NPR's Morning Edition, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that while confidence in COVID-19 vaccines has risen, there's more work to do in convincing people, especially in rural communities, to get the shots. And working with "trusted messengers," including doctors and local faith leaders, will be key, he said.

"That's actually who people want to hear from — their own health care provider, their family and their friends," Murthy said.

Another important factor is providing reliable information about the vaccines, he said.

"Our goal is not to make people feel judged or to look down upon them in any way, but everyone should make sure they get their questions answered," Murthy said.

Following are highlights of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

On Biden's plan to distribute more vaccines through doctor's offices:

The progression that [the president] spoke of yesterday of going more local and making access even easier is part of a broader progression that's been taking place over the last few months. And this one will involve directing pharmacies, for example, to go from appointments only to offering walk-ins so that you can get vaccinated on your schedule instead of someone else's schedule. Directing FEMA to set up pop-up clinics and more mobile units to go to harder to reach places and communities. And making sure that we're shipping allocations of vaccine directly to rural health clinics, where access is not always easy to health care services more broadly.

On convincing people in rural areas to get vaccinated against COVID-19:

Overall, confidence rates in the vaccine have actually been improving since the end of last year. And we still have work to do. ... [We] have to work with trusted messengers. ... with local nurses and doctors, with teachers, with faith leaders and others in local communities ... that's actually who people want to hear from — their own health care provider, their family and their friends.

On doctors in rural communities who don't want to get vaccinated:

The good news here is that the vast majority of people in the country actually either are vaccinated or want to get vaccinated. So confidence is actually higher than one might think if you just look at the headlines. ... 90% of doctors have even gotten the vaccine or are trying to get it as soon as possible for themselves. I think that says something about where the confidence is in the medical profession in vaccines. And so we just have to keep that in mind and also recognize that, look, when people have questions about the vaccine, our goal is not to make people feel judged or to look down upon them in any way, but everyone should make sure they get their questions answered.

On the expectation that the Food and Drug Administration soon will authorize a vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds:

Well, it's a very important step because ultimately, if we want to reach broad levels of vaccination in our community, we've got to include children. That means adolescents and young children as well. And we'll see what the FDA does in terms of their decision to authorize the vaccine. But it will be a major step forward in helping us get kids vaccinated, because, remember, even though kids may be at a much lower risk of severe disease, they still can get COVID and transmit it to others. And that's why vaccinating them is so important.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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