About one third of all adults in the United States — a staggering 91 million people — have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination. While millions are anxiously awaiting President Biden's May 1 deadline when all adults become eligible, there are millions of others who remain hesitant to get vaccinated when it's their turn.
LL COOL J's Rock The Bells Radio gathered Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Senior Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, legendary DJ and a COVID-19 survivor, to have a frank discussion about the vaccine. Below you will find the video in it's entirety, and select talking points.
LL COOL J: Dr. Fauci, I'll start off with you. Bottom line, let's get right to it. People are afraid. A lot of people are really concerned and afraid of taking this vaccine. They're afraid of the side effects of this vaccine and what it can mean for them in their future for many different reasons and we'll get into some of those reasons. Let's start right there. Should they be concerned? Should they be afraid?
Dr. Fauci: Their fear and their concern is understandable, but when you look at the facts, they really should not be afraid for the following reasons. The questions that people ask is that, "Boy, you made these vaccines really fast. We're told vaccines take years, you did it in less than a year. Were you reckless? Were you cutting corners? Did you essentially circumvent safety?" The answer is no, because the speed is really a reflection to our being able to make a vaccine and test it so quickly. It's been tested in tens and tens of thousands of people, and it has shown a high degree of efficacy and a very, very good safety profile. So although we respect the concerns of people when they feel they want to know more about this, they're a bit concerned. We do that, we respect it, but we go ahead and tell them the facts. When you examine the facts, the facts are very, very favorable in that the benefit of vaccination overwhelmingly is greater than the risk, particularly when you're dealing with an infection that has already killed about 540,000 people in the United States.
LL COOL J: Mind you, again, I really want to address the concerns and really get to the brass tacks of it. There's some people that say, "Well, respectfully of course, Dr. Fauci, maybe he has a financial interest in the vaccine," or, "Mind you, Pfizer is a publicly-traded company. I mean, anybody can," but that being said, they may say, "Dr. Fauci has a financial interest," or you have a financial interest. Dr. Fauci, what do you say to those people who say this is some sort of a get rich quick scheme? You know what I mean?
Dr. Fauci: Well, there's a really clear cut answer to that. That is, we are not allowed by our ethics committees, that tell us what we can and cannot do, to have any financial interest whatsoever in any of the companies that we deal with that have products for the American public. So if someone has open access to all of my financial dealings, in fact, as a public service, anybody can say, "I want to know what his financial interests are, and they know. It's right there, and it has zero to do with any pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Nunez-Smith: I smile a little bit too, because it'll be quite clear if you look at the financials that I don't have any financial ties to any of these companies and I don't benefit at all from them. But again, these are the questions. That people have had their trust eroded and we'll just have to start off by acknowledging that. It's been a hard go and it's an earned distrust. We know these institutions were talking about, whether it's the federal government, whether it's healthcare institutions, scientific institutions, they've earned the distrust of many people. Not yesterday, but over generations and so we have to rebuild the trust. This is how we do it. We're always going to be honest, we're going to be transparent. We're always going to lead with the science, the evidence, and the data. So these questions, keep them coming, but definitely Dr. Fauci and I have no financial stake in any of these vaccines.
LL COOL J: Can we speak to that two two-part question, one being the discomfort with the vaccine being developed under the Trump administration, and then the second piece being, does the vaccine target specific people's bodies based on ethnicity?
Dr. Fauci: the people who were involved in the development of the vaccine were people like myself, my colleagues here at the NIH, pharmaceutical companies that have no connection whatsoever with any individual administration. So the fact is that it was really developed under the firm tenants of good science and good clinical trial. So I think anybody that feels because it was developed during a particular time when an administration was in power, in fact, care was taken so was not to make a vaccine be available at a time that coincided or not with an election to make someone look better or not. You might remember there was a lot of discussion about that, and we just made sure that the results of the vaccine came out when the results were ready, not when it was advantageous for one person or another.
LL COOL J: Basically, just for clarity, you made sure when you did the clinical trials, I'm going to say it in layman's terms, when you tested this vaccine, you tested it on all kinds of people, Black, White, Asian, whatever, Latino, you tested it on all kinds of people.
Dr. Nunez-Smith: Everyone can see themselves in these clinical trials. I think that's so important with Dr. Fauci. Like 30% of people are people of color in those clinical trials, those late stage clinical trials. So, that's really key. That's probably one of the questions I know I get asked a lot. I'm sure Dr. Fauci does as well. It's like, "Who exactly did they study this on?" The answer is they studied it on everybody. This is so, so key because just not the clinical trial participants that I say, thank you, because I know sometimes folks can be hesitant to participate in clinical research so I always do a special thank you to the folks who are doing that, but the scientists are diverse, the policy makers are diverse. I mean, it's a different day in science than it used to be.
LL COOL J: Jeff, as a COVID survivor, because you are, one, how are you feeling, firstly?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I'm great now. I am absolutely great. The last week was actually the anniversary of my illness, so I had a little bit of a psychological thing, but as far as how I'm feeling, I'm great.
LL COOL J: Now, have you been vaccinated or will you be vaccinated?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Yes. It was a very tough decision, to be honest.
LL COOL J: Tell us why.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Well, first of all, I want to thank you and the rest of this panel for explaining this because, as you know, I know also, every day I'm getting a call from a friend of mine saying, "Hey, are you going to take the vaccine?" This is a major concern with people that I know that there is a level of trust to me that has been broken. I almost equate it, as a kid, when you would fall back into your friend's arm and he would catch you, it only takes one time for him to drop you and that never leaves your brain. I think there's a lot of people that feel like they have been dropped over and over and over again, that they're wondering, is this the time that you're going to catch me?
LL COOL J: What was your bout with COVID like? What did you experience? Beginning, middle stages, coming out, briefly take us through what you experienced when you caught COVID-19? How severe was it, etc?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I looked at my wife while we were in the store and I said, I didn't feel well and she said, "What is it?" I said, "I'm feeling a little achy." She said, "Go home and take a shower." And I vaguely remember the next 14 days of my life. I remember going to the doctor, I don't even remember how I got there. My wife took me, they diagnosed me with double pneumonia. My wife really started making phone calls to my family and my close friends that she didn't know if I was going to make it because I hadn't eaten, I hadn't spoken for about 10 days.
LL COOL J: Dr. Fauci, you're a man of faith. I was raised Catholic, too. If you had a chance to talk to people, somebody in the elevator to the faith community, and let's say an elevator pitch to the faith community about COVID-19 and vaccinations, what would you say? How would you make it plain, as they say in a Black church, how would you make it plain to someone in the faith community who has religious reasons why they think that God will help them and they don't need this?
Dr. Fauci: So you get vaccinated, two things happen, you protect yourself from getting ill, but by blocking the dynamics of the outbreak by getting infected, what you do is you indirectly protect your family and your community, and by extension, the entire country. So if your faith tells you that you have a responsibility of love thy neighbor as thyself, a good way to show it is to protect your neighbor by getting vaccinated yourself.
LL COOL J: Aaron Butler says, "With black people making up roughly 13% of the US population, what percentage of the vaccination test participants were people of color? And where there any noted differences in efficacy or side effects from race to race?"
Dr. Fauci: Okay, great question. So in the trials that we've done, they've ranged anywhere from eight as low to 11 to 12% of African-Americans. We never quite in them got up to 13, but we came close. We did better with Hispanics, Hispanics are about 17 to 18% of the population we generally got about 20, 21% in the clinical trials. That is I think a pretty good representation and as Dr. Nunez Smith said, when you put it all together, you get over 30% in brown and black people, which is pretty good. What we've got to do better with is the equitable distribution. Because if you look at the percent representation in the community and the numbers who've gotten vaccine, it isn't all vaccine hesitancy at all. It's access to the vaccine and that's what we're working really hard at. I might make one comment listening to what Jeff said. So Jeff looks to me like a healthy young African-American guy and he was really, really sick. I mean, with double pneumonia and being in a situation as his wife was concerned it could have gone either way. So God bless you Jeff, you made it, good for you. But the fact is that we really need to make sure that people don't think that healthy young people, particularly African Americans are not really vulnerable. They are, they're vulnerable for two reasons. One, by the nature of what you do with your work you're more likely to be out in the community in an essential job. So just the way he was in Ketchum Idaho doing his thing, interacting with people, he exposed himself. It was part of his job. The other thing is that African-Americans have a higher incidence of the underlying conditions, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, that makes it more likely when they do get infected to have a severe outcome. Which is every much more, the reason why particularly African Americans need to get vaccinated.
This interview has been condensed and edited