Dr. Rochelle Walensky discusses vaccinating children and restoring trust in the CDC

The CDC director discusses the possibility of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine becoming available to 12 to 15 year-olds and addresses vaccine hesitancy among Americans.
9:55 | 05/07/21

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Transcript for Dr. Rochelle Walensky discusses vaccinating children and restoring trust in the CDC
So in recent days the CDC has begun to relax and revise concern covid guidelines, but some say the message coming from the country's health experts is a mixed one. Here to respond to that as well as to talk vaccine hesitancy and other important topics is the director of the center for disease control, Dr. Rochelle walensky. Welcome to the show, doctor. We're so glad to have you here. I'm so delighted to be here with you all. You just heard us talking about mother's day, this weekend. It's expected that the pfizer shot will be available to 12 to 15-year-olds. Trials are under way for young children. These vaccines were tested on thousands of adults. As a doctor and a mother, what do you say to people who have concerns about giving this to their young children? I mean, we were just talking to Sara who has all little ones. I'm sure she would like to make sure they're safe too. How can we feel confident on the testing methods? Thank you for that. Good morning, everybody. I have three teenagers, early 20-year-old kids, three boys. My 19 and 21-year-old have got vaccinated. They did so because they lost a year of college experience. My 19-year-old lost his high school graduation and prom. My 16-year-old is fully vaccinated for the first time tonight. He'll have two fully vaccinated friends over and try to regain what he's lost this past year. We're hoping to hear next week from the fda. I can tell you that these vaccines have been tested in hundreds -- in 100,000 people in clinical trials and in about 2,500 children, 2,300 children in the context of these trials for safety in the younger ages, the 12 to 15-year-olds. It's about that that we're be hearing from the CDC and fda. I can also say we now have over 250 million shots that have gone into arms. We are monitoring the safety of these vaccines extraordinarily carefully and our data has demonstrated that we have been able to identify very rare events through our vaccine adverse event reporting system. With that, I have felt very confident, not only in the efficacy of the vaccines which have now been shown in clinical clinical trials as well as in real world study that is are emerging every day, but also the safety of the vaccines. We do know there's high risk of covid-19 and there's still a lot of disease out there. I would encourage people to get their over 16-year-olds vaccinated now with pfizer. Over 18 are eligible for any vaccine. We'll wait to hear from the fda and the CDC, I hope next week, with that information we'll have the comfort of knowing it's been through rigorous review and will be safe for 12 and 15-year-olds as well. Dr. Walensky, I think being vaccinated is marvelous. I, despite what my governor in Florida said, I only allow vaccinated people into my house. Vaccine hesitancy is real and, as you know, it's a big problem. Yes, there are some people out there who are still physically distant from a vaccine site, but the major issue is with those who refuse to get it because they're scared, because they don't trust it, because they think it means owning the liberals. Pick one. What is your message to those who have vaccine hesitancy for whatever reason? First, we need to acknowledge that people have said this population doesn't want to get vaccinated or that population doesn't want to get vaccinated. Vaccinated is a very individual decision. Individuals are making that decision for their own health and for the health of their families. We need to understand that. Individuals have reasons they may not want to be vaccinated. Is it because it wasn't convenient? Is it because they were worried about the side effects? Is it because they couldn't take the day off work, didn't have any place to have their kids while they were getting vaccinated? We need to understand the reasons. Is it convenience? Is it because they weren't motivated? Is it they don't really understand how the science was done, why it was able to be done so rapidly, how we layered on years of experience with mrna research to be able to bring these vaccines so quickly to the so, now is the time we need to do the hard work. We need to make sure it's convenient. We need to talk to people one at a time. We need to talk to them through trusted messengers. Not everybody wants to hear from the CDC director. They may want to hear from their local church, their own pharmacist or physician. Now is the time we're trying to get the vaccine to be more convenient and to have the trusted messenger send those messages. Dr. Walensky, my kids are 5 and under. They're vaccinated age appropriately as recommended. Two of them are in that school-age group. When can you maybe guesstimate when kids that young will be protected as they head out into the world? Right. We are watching this area closely. First, the 12 to 15 and then the 9 to 12 and we'll decrease the ages over time as the vaccine studies are done by the companies. We probably have months ahead before we get to the age ranges of your children. I'm hopeful early 2022, but it may take us through the rest of the year. Doctor, you made it clear you have every intention of restoring American's trust in the CDC. A trust that was so damaged during the last administration. Do you feel the CDC is able to be as transparent and science forward as it needs to be under president Biden's administration or is there still work to be done in your view? I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done. I have no concerns that we can be transparent and science based. That's the reason I'm here. We have an extraordinary team of subject matter experts in an extraordinary breadth of topics. We have career scientists who have dedicated selflessly their entire career to public health, to serving our nation's health. So my job is several fold. One is to make sure those scientists know their voices are going to be heard again. The science is going to speak and I want to hear from them if they're concerned there is science that is emerging that our guidance doesn't speak to. The other thing I need to do is make sure the public knows that. The public needs to understand science is back. We are going to ensure that all of our guidance is based on the science. Before I came, I asked my principle deputy to review all our covid-based guidance to ensure the guidance up there was using the language our science experts would like used. I asked we have scientific briefs that accompany the guidance. Our school guidance had over 60 references to demonstrate and document the science we followed in order for the guidance to come forward. Doctor, getting kids and teachers back to in-person learning has been complicated to say the least. While you've stated the process has been, quote/unquote, free from political meddling, the CDC has been in repeated contact with a large and politically influential teacher's union regarding school guidelines which some see as a direct example of the political interference the CDC is claiming to reject. How do you respond to that? We engage with our stake holders and consumers of that information to understand what they need from the guidance when we put it out. We do that before we release the guidance so we understand and confirm that what we put out is what they need to move forward. We did so before we put out our school guidance. We engaged with over 50 organizations and communities. I personally listened to parents. I personally listened to the reference that is being spoken about is when we spoke to teachers, we learned, and importantly so, that our initial draft of the guidance, while it spoke to students that might be at high risk for severe disease, we neglected to include what happens if teachers are at high risk of severe disease. That was an important oversight that we needed to include as to how we would handle what happens -- Doctor, I hate to interrupt you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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