U.S. NIH director warns vaccine hesitancy could draw out pandemic

People who are reluctant to get COVID-19 vaccines could end up prolonging the pandemic, U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said on Thursday.

Collins said in an interview with Fox News that he is not worried about having enough vaccine supply. He is more concerned “with the hesitancy that is still there in a lot of groups” that will make it harder to reach immunity “because so many people will basically say, ‘No, not for me.’

“That could basically cause this pandemic to go on much longer than it needs to,” he said.

President Joe Biden announced earlier on Thursday that his administration has set a new goal of 200 million shots of coronavirus vaccine by the end of his first 100 days in office, double his original goal.

Collins said health officials do not know what proportion of the population has had COVID-19, and he encouraged Americans who know they contracted the disease to get vaccinated.

“Surprisingly, being infected with the natural disease of COVID-19 doesn’t provide as much immunity to getting infected a second time than the vaccine does,” he said.

Like other public health officials, Collins warned it was too soon to declare victory against the coronavirus pandemic, citing resurgences in some European countries caused by virus variants.

“We still have to stick to those public health measures to limit the transmission of this highly infectious variant while we get the rest of the country vaccinated, and then, by the summer, we may begin to be able to put this in the rear view mirror,” he said. “But it’s not time yet.”

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