US Surgeon General: Child vaccines key to going maskless this fall

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2020, file photo Dr. Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated to be U.S. Surgeon General speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. The Senate has confirmed Murthy as surgeon generral on March 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Susan Walsh, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told News4Jax on Thursday that he plans to vaccinate his children, 3 and 4 years old, when the coronavirus vaccine is available for them.

In the meantime, the nation’s top doctor is encouraging children 12-15 years old to get vaccinated as pharmacies and vaccination sites began administering the shots to that age group in Jacksonville and across the nation on Thursday.

“For the last year, so many of our kids have had to give up the things that they love. They haven’t been able to go to birthday parties with friends and be able to go to sleepovers and see movies in theaters, they haven’t been able to see their grandparents and get together with extended family. The vaccine is our chance to get back to all of those things that they love,” Murthy said.

Shortly after he spoke with News4Jax on Thursday, the CDC announced people who have been vaccinated no longer need to wear masks indoors.

“Now that we’ve been making progress, we’ve seen the recent CDC guidance that people can actually be outside without masks. If they’re in very, very crowded places where you’ve got people on top of each other very densely packed, outdoors, that’s a situation where you want to have a mask on, but what we’re seeing is the more people get vaccinated, as infection drops the CDC is continuing to refine their guidance,” Murthy said.

Dr. Murthy said he is still concerned about vaccine hesitancy.

“Some people really do have questions about the vaccines and that’s okay. People should have the opportunity to get those questions answered,” he said. “Some people might think well I’m, I’m young, I’m in a low-risk group do I really need to get vaccinated? The answer, by the way, is absolutely, yes.”

He said the administration is also working to make sure people who want to get the vaccine have access.

“People say you know I want to get vaccinated, but I’m worried about taking time off from work when I’m worried that I don’t exactly know where to go to get a vaccine or I’m not quite sure where the nearest location is to me where you can find out that information. So that’s why we’re trying to make it easier and easier and easier for people to get the vaccine by setting up more locations to do it,” he explained.

The Biden administration announced a $7 billion plan Thursday to hire and train more public health officials, including school nurses, to educate Americans that the vaccines are safe.

As for what the guidelines for students will be this fall, Dr. Murthy said it depends on how many children get vaccines.

“And what we’ve found, which is really encouraging, is that even when kids are not vaccinated, where those masks that they follow the CDC guidelines for washing their hands if they’re taking care to keep some distance between them as well, that they can do pretty well in terms of staying safe,” he said. “The good news is that as kids get vaccinated more, we’ll be able to take further steps where we can relax these restrictions and that’s the real joy and opportunity in getting vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, the surgeon general said it is still unclear when adults who have already been vaccinated will need to get a booster shot.

“What we know is that they seem to last at least last six months, based on the data and likely last quite a number of months,” he said. “What’s important to know though is that the vaccines right now, they work. They provide significant protection. They’ve been the reason why we’ve seen a dramatic drop in hospitalizations and deaths in people who are 65 and up, and the more people get vaccinated, the more we’re going to see those kinds of benefits spread throughout the population.”

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