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Ex-Planned Parenthood Head: Biden’s Public Health Guidance ‘So Disconnected’ From ‘Everyday Reality’

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BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 25: Dr. Leana Wen speaks during the funeral services for late U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) at the New Psalmist Baptist Church October 25, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. A sharecropper’s son who rose to become a civil rights champion and the chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Cummings died last week of complications from longstanding health problems at the age of 68.
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Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and the former head of Planned Parenthood, slammed President Joe Biden during an interview this week, saying that he is moving too slowly in lifting pandemic restrictions, his messaging is not effective, and the public health guidance is “disconnected from reality.”

“Dr. Wen, so you’ve been critical of the administration over not being aggressive enough in the efforts to reopen schools,” CNN’s Anderson Cooper said. “As we wait for these guidelines tomorrow regarding mask use for vaccine people, do you feel the same way here that the government is moving too slow on these guidelines?”

“I do, Anderson,” she responded. “I understand that the Biden team wants to be cautious. But caution comes at a price. And that price is that people are saying, well, what’s the point of getting vaccinated? If not that much changes for me?”

“I think what the Biden administration has been doing is to say, here’s what we as a society should do, as then once we reach a certain level of vaccination and the society, once the infection level decreases, will lift restrictions for everyone. But I think they’re just counting that many Americans want to know what’s in it for me, they don’t want to wait until everyone gets to some elusive herd immunity,” she continued. “And I think it’ll be a lot more effective if we same, once you are fully vaccinated, that’s the end of the road for you. And so, at that point, you’re able to take off your mask outside, you’re able to go about enjoying many aspects of pre pandemic life. I think that is going to be key to overcoming vaccine hesitancy.”

WATCH:

Wen said that she thinks that outdoor mask mandates need to be eliminated regardless of whether or not people have been vaccinated.

“I think the key at this point, Anderson, is that we have to think about reducing risk, not eliminating risk, because we’re just not going to be able to live like that,” she said. “We are seeing major portions of this country who are not yet vaccinated, who are already returning to doing everything they’re doing pre pandemic, because our guidance, the public health guidance is so disconnected from their everyday reality.”

“Part of public health is understanding where people are meeting them there,” she continued. “I think we can tell people, here are all these activities that once were high risk, get vaccinated, they are now lower risk. But once they get vaccinated, go and do things. We encourage you to do things like travel, we want you to do it safely. But please go see your friends and family. I think that kind of message will have a lot more resonance, than here are all the things you can’t do, even if you’re fully vaccinated.”

WATCH:

TRANSCRIPT:

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Joining us with her perspective is Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst, former Health Commissioner from Baltimore and author of the upcoming book, ‘Lifelines, A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.’

Dr. Wen, so you’ve been critical of the ministration over not being aggressive enough in the efforts to reopen schools. As we wait for these guidelines tomorrow regarding mask use for vaccine people. Do you feel the same way here that the government is moving too slow on these guidelines?

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I do Anderson. I understand that the Biden team wants to be cautious. But caution comes at a price. And that price is that people are saying, well, what’s the point of getting vaccinated? If not that much changes for me?

I think what the Biden administration has been doing is to say, here’s what we as a society should do, as then once we reach a certain level of vaccination and the society, once the infection level decreases, will lift restrictions for everyone. But I think they’re discounting that many Americans want to know what’s in it for me, they don’t want to wait until everyone gets to some elusive herd immunity.

And I think it’ll be a lot more effective if we say, once you are fully vaccinated, that’s the end of the road for you. And so, at that point, you’re able to take off your mask outside, you’re able to go about enjoying many aspects of pre pandemic life. I think that is going to be key to overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

COOPER: The problem with that, though, is there’s plenty of people who aren’t wearing masks anyway who haven’t been vaccinated. So is that a risk? I mean, if a lot of unvacc — if a lot of vaccinated people are walking around without mask, or more people just going to start taking off their mask, even whether or not they’ve been vaccinate. It’s not like anybody’s checking.

WEN: Yes, I mean, I think frankly, outdoor mask mandates should just go regardless of whether you’re vaccinated. There are a lot of locales and states that still have blanket masked mandates. So even if you live in a suburban area, or rural area where you don’t see that many people, there’s still mask mandates in place, that does not make any sense.

So I actually think outdoor mask mandates can go. But I also think that we can do a lot more with specifically incentivizing vaccination, including allowing businesses to come back at full capacity if they’re checking for proof of vaccination.

COOPER: So, I mean, is there — I mean, it’s interesting to me that you say if wearing a mask outdoors, that there’s not much point I mean, that’s essentially what you’re saying is that I mean, what about being close to somebody, you know, walking down the street, isn’t that a risk if they’re — they haven’t been vaccinated?

And even if you’ve been vaccinated, I mean, is it what’s the percentage of people who are vaccinated who may get it, but just get a really mild case, but even now, mild cases, aren’t you seeing that down the road, they can have other effects?

WEN: I think the key at this point, Anderson, is that we have to think about reducing risk, not eliminating risk, because we’re just not going to be able to live like that. We are seeing major portions of this country who are not yet vaccinated, who are already returning to doing everything they’re doing pre pandemic, because our guidance, the public health guidance is so disconnected from their everyday reality.

Part of public health is understanding where people are and meeting them there. I think we can tell people, here are all these activities that once were high risk, get vaccinated, they are now lower risk. But once they get vaccinated, go and do things. We encourage you to do things like travel, we want you to do it safely. But please go see your friends and family. I think that kind of message will have a lot more resonance, than here are all the things you can’t do, even if you’re fully vaccinated.

COOPER: The pause was listed on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday, you were a part of the trial received the placebo but then chose to receive the vaccine before the risk of these rare but serious blood clots was known. Would you still receive the J&J vaccine? And what are you advising your female patients to do?

WEN: I mean, I would say that the J&J vaccine is still a very good vaccine that for a lot of people getting one dose, one shot going to the appointment once is really important. So if that’s really important to them, go ahead and do that.

But now we also know that there is this rare but very serious clotting disorder, a very serious clotting disorder that has children — I mean three people have died because of this, seven remain in the hospital for an intensive care. And the number the people who are primarily affected are young women, women under the age of 15.

And so, I would say to these individuals, and if I had a choice, this is what I would have done, I would have taken one of the other vaccines, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, because those vaccines don’t have this risk that are still very effective.

We’re in a very different point at the pandemic than we were a month ago or two months ago, when we said to people, take whatever vaccine you have access to first. Now we have enough supply and we also have more information about the possible risk, the very small risk, but in this very particular population of women under 50. So I would say that those women take Pfizer or Moderna first, if you don’t want to, for whatever reason, then get Johnson & Johnson it’s still a very good vaccine.

COOPER: Dr. Wen, appreciate it. Thanks.

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