Well-Being Prevention & Cures

NIH chief says he is not requiring his employees to get vaccinated

coronavirus COVID-19 community spread francis collins nih national institute of health mandatory vaccine hesitancy johnson & johnson
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins speaks during a public vaccination event at Washington National Cathedral March 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Francis Collins advocates less “finger-wagging” when encouraging people to get vaccinated.
  • Because all COVID-19 vaccines are permitted to market under the FDA’s emergency use clause, they cannot be mandated.
  • Collins underscores that vaccines are beneficial and outweigh any potential risks.

With vaccine hesitancy rates still prominent across multiple states, public health and government officials alike have been strategizing on the best way to encourage positive sentiment towards the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Recent Census data reveals that a plurality of people are reticent to get vaccinated due to a fear of side effects. An average of 15.6 percent of American adults report being hesitant about receiving one of the approved vaccines. 

Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), went on NBC News to assure people that there is “no comparison” between potential risks versus the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19.

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re missing out on that chance to lift that blanket of fear that’s been there, even if you don’t think COVID-19 is that big of a deal,” he said.

This interview follows the recent ruling of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine the green light to continue being used following reports of blood clots in women.

Collins stresses that this “rare event” only occurred in eight recipients out of nearly 7 million people having received vaccinations. He supports the ACIP’s decision to readminister the vaccine provided patients are given a fact sheet detailing potential side effects. 

Outside of the fear of side effects, Collins added that public messaging surrounding getting vaccinated can be improved by listening to individual concerns and changing the conversation surrounding the importance of the vaccine. 

“I think there has been too much finger-wagging,” he explained. “I’ve done some of that, and I’m going to try to stop, and listen in fact to what people’s specific questions are.”

This includes emphasizing the positives, like socializing normally and removing masks among others who have been vaccinated.

Noting that since all COVID-19 vaccines are still under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization, they cannot be mandatory.

While Collins said that private institutions — such as colleges and workplaces — are welcome to implement rules around mandatory vaccination, he will not mandate his employees at NIH to get vaccinated.

“Vaccines are good for you. I’m certainly encouraging everyone who works for me…to get vaccinated, but I’m not mandating it.”