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U.S. health official: ‘It’s up to us’ how long spread of COVID-19 will last

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 10:39 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Assistant Health Secretary with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday the thing the American people can do right now for their safety and that of their families and community is to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I think it’s up to us, I think it is up to the people in South Carolina and the people in the United States, how long the spread of COVID 19 last,” Dr. Rachel Levine said. “That’s because we have safe and effective vaccines against this virus.”

Levine said the vaccines are effective against the Delta variant, a more transmissible variant of the original strain.

“So we need to do everything we can to increase the vaccination rate among our teams 12 through 17,” she said.

She said everyone doing their part and taking precautions will be required to get control of the spread of COVID-19.

Levine acknowledged concern from parents of school-age children about risks to students, many of whom are at ages that are so far unapproved to be vaccinated.

“We are all in agreement that we want in-person education for our young people,” Levine said. “It is very important, but we have to do that safely.”

She said the Delta variant means everyone must use all of the tools in the nation’s “public health toolbox.” Those tools, she said, include testing, mask wearing in schools by all children and staff, social distancing and hand washing, and vaccination.

She said it is not clear how soon those under the age of 12 will be approved to take the COVID-19 vaccine by the FDA.

“They’ve been working double overtime on all of these issues to review the data and then make the appropriate regulatory decisions,” she said. “Then we’ll go to the CDC. All that will happen as quickly as possible.”

For children under the age of 12, Levine said parents should have them wear masks when they go to school and observe social distancing and hand washing as much as possible. She also said it is very important that older siblings of younger children be vaccinated.

With FDA approval, those hesitant of vaccine can be ‘totally secure’

Levine said she hopes the Food and Drug Administration’s approval Monday of the Pfizer vaccine will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“What the full approval means is that some people have been waiting for full approval before they received their vaccine. They wanted that step,” she said. “And so, they now can get get vaccinated. They can be totally secure that says that it has gone through the whole process, and they can get vaccinated.”

She said the White House wants everybody to feel confident that the vaccines are safe and effective.

“The thing that people can do need right now for, for the safety of their themselves, their families, their communities in South Carolina and our nation is to roll up your sleeves,” she said.

Levine: Vaccine development, review is ‘exhaustive, thorough’

Levine said the process to deal with the pandemic played out exactly as it was supposed to with what she called “a tremendous effort” from the federal government to work with pharmaceutical companies to produce the vaccines.

“This built on work with the messenger RNA vaccines has been going on for a decade or more, they were able to produce the vaccines, the FDA, through a regulatory process reviewed it, the information, and gave the emergency youth authorization to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson,” she said. “These vaccines went through the CDC process with the advisory committee and immunization practice, and now all the data was submitted for full approval to the FDA for Pfizer, and it was approved.”

She said she expects approval for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to come eventually.

“So it was not done on the quick, it actually has been an exhaustive, thorough review process,” she said.

President Joe Biden nominated Levine as the nation’s 17th assistant secretary for health and she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March.

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