His confidence tour, which has several other stops underway, comes as the Biden administration begins its latest Covid-19 vaccination campaign and at a time when his agency faces intense scrutiny of its decisions and actions. messages during the pandemic. She faces a public that has, for the most part, moved past Covid and growing skepticism about vaccines fueled by some presidential candidates and public health officials.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Wednesday warned healthy adults under the age of 65 against the newly approved Covid-19 vaccine.
Cohen called efforts to reduce vaccination rates “unfounded and, frankly, dangerous.”
“I want to make sure people know, especially in Florida, that vaccination remains a safe way in terms of protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death,” she said. “It’s important that Americans get vaccinated.”
There is reason to believe that the population is receptive to the government’s message. More than half of voters are likely to seek the latest Covid shot, according to a new poll conducted by Morning Consult and POLITICO. Nearly eight in 10 Democrats say they will “definitely” or “probably” get the new vaccine, and about four in 10 Republicans expect to seek out the updated vaccine.
Cohen will personally make his case in the coming weeks by traveling across the country, including to places with high uninsurance rates, to tout the administration’s Bridge Access program, which provides vaccines against Covid-19 to uninsured people.
Beyond state visits, Cohen, who became director in July, has met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill — including Republicans who have criticized the agency — regularly appears in Instagram videos to discuss public health initiatives and is behind an overhaul of the agency to make data more reliable. / information more accessible. She wrote an op-ed Thursday, touting Covid vaccines and sharing that her husband and two young daughters would soon get vaccinated.
“Part of building trust is making sure people know that I wouldn’t recommend to Americans something that I wouldn’t recommend to my own family,” she told POLITICO.
Cohen is following a path taken by former CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who last year ordered an overhaul of the agency following criticism of its Covid-19 response.
“I don’t want to say I started the job,” Cohen said. “This is a continuation and acceleration of that work.”
Walensky did not respond to a request for comment.
Reforming the way the CDC communicates is a crucial part of the campaign. That includes redesigning the agency’s website to be more consumer-friendly, said Kevin Griffis, CDC communications director.
“She knows, as a leading health authority, that public trust has at times been called into question,” Paula Tran, a Wisconsin state health official who met with Cohen this summer, told POLITICO .
There is a new program for CDC scientists that explains how to use clear language, Griffis said, and Cohen meets regularly with CDC employees to discuss their concerns and changes during “Meetings with Mandy.”
Cohen led the North Carolina health department at the height of the pandemic and said talking to people about what she knew — and didn’t know — helped build trust, a lesson she ‘she said bring to the CDC.
She highlighted how the agency has discussed the emerging BA.2.86 variant, which is the subject of weekly science updates, and often describes what the agency still doesn’t know about the variant as evidence of this. work.
“We are already beginning the path (to better science communication),” Cohen said.
And as the agency works on its public messaging, Cohen has asked states to do the same.
At a meeting in Washington state, Cohen asked health officials to prepare clear and consistent messaging about the upcoming respiratory illness season, including how to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
“She explained that we need to be transparent in decision-making and we need to be transparent with our data,” said Tao Kwan-Gett, Washington state’s chief science officer.
For the Wisconsin Department of Health, challenges with the CDC in recent years have focused on providing real-time data to the public, Tran told POLITICO. As the pandemic response became more localized, the department said inconsistencies emerged between school districts, local agencies and counties on Covid guidelines.
“We’re looking to the CDC to provide that national coordination around our top public health priorities and how we can continue to strengthen public health infrastructure,” Tran said.
After Cohen visited the department in August, Tran said she was “pleased with the collaborative nature and partnership of Dr. Cohen and listening to our colleagues at a very local level.”