NIH Director Francis Collins is overseeing the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and is concerned about anti-vaccine activists

Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health, which is the primary U.S. government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research. It’s a giant agency, with 20,000 employees, including 6,000 research scientists, and a $39 billion budget. And this job makes him a crucial figure at this particular moment. He is leading the hunt in America for a vaccine solution to the COVID-19 crisis, leading a consortium of several government agencies and 18 pharmaceutical companies. 


“I am worried," he says, "that if we get a vaccine for COVID-19 by the end of the year, current polls would say maybe 20 percent of Americans say that they wouldn't take it. And why would they not take it? Just because they don't trust that vaccines are going to be safe, and that all sort of builds upon the stories coming from anti-vaxxers in the past."

"This is a terrible tragedy. Hundred thousands of people are dying across the world. We could stop that. And 20 percent of Americans say, ‘I wouldn't want that vaccine because it might not be what I think it should be because maybe they're lying to me about whether it's safe.’ How did we get there?”


But Collins also acknowledged that establishment organizations and leaders need to engage more meaningfully with the concerns of anti-vaccine activists.


“There's virtually no human intervention, including drinking water, that is without risk for certain people in certain doses. So let's be clear. When I say vaccines are generally safe, that doesn't mean that there's not a rare instance where a vaccine does lead to a negative outcome, some sort of side effect or a secondary illness of some sort. What we ask, I think though, scientifically is how do you balance the benefits and the risks? And I think we ask every consumer to do that same calculation,” he said.


“I'm afraid we have not done a great job in terms of explaining how one makes a thoughtful, rational decision, that you have to really get quantitative about it. If somebody says, ‘Well, there's a risk there.’ Of course there is. How big is the risk? What does that mean for the individual? And how do you factor that into what's the benefit? Then you could have a reasonable conversation,” he said. 

We also discuss why Christians seem to be so vulnerable to conspiracy theories.


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Outro music: "The Times They are a Changing" by Bob Dylan, performed by Francis Collins, Joe Perry and Rudy Tanzi


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