Scott Gottlieb: Politics Increasingly Drive Vaccination Decisions

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning all COVID-19 vaccine mandates in his state, along with President Joe Biden’s mandate ordering the vaccines, shows that the choice about whether to get the shot is becoming a matter of politics over health, and that could expand to vaccinations for other diseases, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned Tuesday. 

“I’m concerned about the political implications of vaccines and vaccination becoming another thing that divides us politically and culturally,” Gottlieb, who served under former President Donald Trump for two years, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I think for a lot of voters, they’re not going to be able to make a distinction or a ready distinction between the idea of a mandated vaccine and the idea of taking any vaccine.”

Gottlieb, who is on the board for vaccine maker Pfizer, said he thinks the fight over vaccines will “bleed into other realms.” As a result, he said, vaccinations for other diseases, including childhood illnesses like measles and mumps, and yearly shots against the flu, will decline because they are becoming “something that people think defines their political virtue.”

He also said that government officials shouldn’t be issuing any orders at all, for or against vaccines, to private businesses. 

“I don’t think governors should be stepping in to block private businesses from imposing mandates,” said Gottlieb. “If a business thinks it’s the only way they can protect their workers or their customers, it should be their prerogative to do that.”

But at the same time, the federal government shouldn’t be ordering small businesses and private companies to mandate vaccinations for their employees, said Gottlieb. 

“If we could leave this to be local decision making by businesses and by local authorities, I think that that would be optimal,” he said while admitting that “we’re not going to do that.”

“We’re a long way from this, now that it has become a political football,” said Gottlieb. “We’re literally going to have the administration running against governors on this mandate. We’re going to have governors running for president in the next cycle on the issue of vaccination. I think long-term, that’s going to be corrosive to our overall public health efforts.”

He also pointed out that vaccine mandates for other diseases have been in effect for years, especially for children, and that the flu vaccine is being required for healthcare workers. 

“There are mandates in a lot of settings of private life and we’ve come to accept it,” said Gottlieb. “People by and large in this country support vaccination…[but] a lot of people are going to walk away from this with an assumption that a vaccine is something that the government’s telling you to do and they’re going to reflexively oppose it in circumstances where they would have readily accepted it in the past and that’s going to ultimately have an effect.”

That means in two more years, “we’re going to see vaccination rates come down across the board,” Gottlieb said. 

“I’ve been warning my public health colleagues that you know we need to watch what the consequences are of our actions,” he said. “We want to gain incremental vaccination for COVID. We’re at 78% of adults right now over the age of 18 with at least one shot. Each increment that we gain comes at a cost and we need to look at those long-term costs in terms of what we do culturally to ourselves.”

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