Surgeon General Jerome Adams: U.S. Is 'Absolutely Ready' To Ship Vaccine : Coronavirus Updates Jerome Adams acknowledged earlier missteps but says he's confident in plans for vaccine distribution. And after the Thanksgiving spike in cases, he says "targeted closures and mandates" may be needed.

U.S. Surgeon General: 'We Are Absolutely Ready' To Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The next few months are going to be the most difficult in the public health history of this nation. Those are the words of CDC director Robert Redfield, who is predicting the - that deaths from COVID-19 could reach close to 450,000 by February - 450,000. Well, we got another top U.S. public health official on the line today. Surgeon General Jerome Adams joined us to talk about COVID and about another health crisis, maternal mortality. About 700 women die from pregnancy-related causes every year, and today Dr. Adams launched a new campaign to address that.

JEROME ADAMS: We really want to decrease the maternal mortality rate by 50% in five years, and that's an ambitious goal. But I think it's an achievable goal, especially when you look at some states who've had success in this place and particularly other countries. But something we can't miss is that Black and brown women are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic of maternal mortality that's going on.

KELLY: I'll start by pointing out it's not a new issue. For years - too many years - the U.S. has ranked low among developed nations when it comes to maternal health, which is unacceptable for the richest nation in the world. What has been the problem to date as you see it? Is it not enough focus, not enough money - what?

ADAMS: Well, one of the challenges is that we don't recognize that the loss of a mother has an impact that ripples throughout the community. So some people might say only 700 women die each year. But what we don't realize is that for every one woman that dies, there are hundreds to thousands who have preventable complications, No. 1. And No. 2, when you lose a mother, you're losing the head of a household. That impacts the children. That impacts the entire community. So I want people to understand that one death is unacceptable. Seven hundred is too many. And the thousands of people who are impacted every time a mother has a preventable complication really is something we just can't afford to ignore, especially in a pandemic which may be making these problems worse.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, it is hard to talk about any public health challenge without talking about COVID right now. And so I want to ask about just how ready the U.S. is to spring into action if and when the FDA clears the way for a vaccine. Britain's already there. Are we ready?

ADAMS: We absolutely are ready to start shipping out vaccines. We still have work to do at the local level. And we also want to make sure communities of color trust these vaccines because we know they're being disproportionately impacted, but they're also disproportionately less likely to get vaccinated than their white and Asian counterparts.

KELLY: I do need to press you on your confidence that the U.S. is ready to go, ready to spring into action when we get a vaccine approved because America has stumbled at so many points during this pandemic. We were late to recognize the threat. We relate to tell people to wear masks. We had huge shortages of PPE. Why should Americans be confident that on the vaccine front, we're going to get this right?

ADAMS: Well, you're right to press me on this. And what I will say is this is not going to be all about the federal government. We need state and local governments, we need private corporations and we need individuals to do their part. And this is going to be the most challenging vaccine distribution in history. And so...

KELLY: But stay with your piece of it, if you would. You are, in part, responsible for the federal piece of this. So why should we be confident it's going to go fine?

ADAMS: Well, we have the best people who work on logistics in the world ready to deploy this to states. But, again, you bring up a very important point. There are multiple steps along the pathway. There will be hiccups in the road. We will be assessing this along the way. But as of right now, I feel confident that when we have the EUA approved for a vaccine, we will get these vaccines out into the states very quickly. And then we need to make sure the process works from there.

KELLY: Looking ahead to January, is everything humanly possible being done to facilitate a smooth transition?

ADAMS: I can only speak for myself and also for the doctors on the Coronavirus Task Force team and HHS. We are committed to making sure this transition go as smoothly as possible because nothing less than the health and safety and security of the American people is at stake.

KELLY: I was going to ask, are you in contact with the Biden COVID team?

ADAMS: I am not personally in contact with the Biden COVID team officially, but most of the folks on that team know me. I know them. They have my cell phone number and vice versa, and we've been communicating back and forth throughout the year. But HHS is having official transition conversations almost on a daily basis now to make sure this transition goes smoothly, as Secretary Azar has said.

KELLY: To focus on something even closer on the calendar, holidays are just around the corner. You saw how many Americans ignored warnings about gathering for Thanksgiving. You begged people not to travel. So I was looking at your Twitter feed. The CDC begged people not to travel. And it may have been fewer than last year, but millions and millions of Americans did travel at Thanksgiving. Is there a case to be made for stronger measures?

ADAMS: Well, there is a case consistently to be made for trying to figure out how we can empower and engage people. And what I say to those people who did travel - you should consider going to get tested. You should try to limit your exposure to people outside of the household. And I will continue to work with governors and with state departments of health to really encourage people to do the right thing.

KELLY: Sorry.

ADAMS: You shouldn't have to be told to do something to protect yourselves and your neighbors. You shouldn't have to be mandated to do it. I support mandates.

KELLY: You shouldn't have to be. But if people aren't making good decisions left to their own devices, is just encouraging people to make good decisions enough?

ADAMS: Well...

KELLY: Or is there a case to be made for - I don't know - lockdown orders?

ADAMS: I'm absolutely supportive of public health officials and doctors working with their communities and taking whatever measures they deem necessary to protect the public's health. Education, cooperation, local engagement and, where necessary, targeted closures and mandates, I think, are going to be key to helping us get through this surge.

KELLY: Do you agree with the assessment from Robert Redfield at CDC that we're heading into the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation?

ADAMS: I absolutely do. And it's challenging because I know Americans have heard this time and time again with the previous surges. The surge this time isn't regional. It's not like we can deploy resources from one place to another. It's really hitting all of our states at the same time. My colleagues who work in hospitals, they're dog tired. They're overwhelmed. So to the American people who are listening, please understand it's going to be rough over the next several weeks. But the actions that we take today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks will help us get to a vaccine. And it is critically important that you limit exposure outside your household, that you wear a mask and know that we can get through this. There is a reason for hope if we stick together.

KELLY: Vice Admiral Jerome Adams. He is surgeon general of the United States. We really appreciate your time. Thank you.

ADAMS: Thank you.

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