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Surgeon General Vivek Murthy On Gun Control, Vaccines And Science


A new U.S. government official took an oath of office this week.


RYAN DILLON: (As Elmo) Hi, Dr. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA.

DR. VIVEK H. MURTHY: Hi Elmo. You can just call me Dr. Murthy.

DILLON: (As Elmo) Oh, OK.

SIMON: Elmo, by the way, didn't do the swearing-in, Vice President Biden did. But the Surgeon General did appear with Elmo this month in a public service announcement that urged people to get vaccinations. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy joins us now from his offices. Dr. Murthy, thanks very much for being with us.

MURTHY: Thank you so much, Scott. It's great to be with you.

SIMON: Dr. Murthy, you're taking office at a time when - I don't have to tell you - all the public opinion polls show that the confidence of the American people in government is pretty low, and I'll use vaccinations as an example. Overwhelmingly, doctors say vaccinations are a good idea and yet millions of Americans demonstrably are skeptical about that. What do you think you can do without just scolding?

MURTHY: Well, this is a good question, but before I delve into that, let me actually clarify one point about vaccinations that you brought up. Most parents vaccinate their kids. That is the bottom line. That's the - what the statistics tell us. That's what I hear when I'm on the road. In fact, if you look at the measles vaccine, we have a national coverage rate of about 92 percent. It is true that there are some parents who have concerns about vaccines, but while we hear about these concerns a lot in the media, I don't want people to think that the majority of parents out there do not believe in vaccines and then most kids aren't getting vaccinated. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. So that's why it is so important for us to make sure that we are doing our part. And by we, I mean not just the office of the Surgeon General, but healthcare providers around the country, to make sure that we are getting scientifically grounded information to parents so they can make good decisions for their kids.

SIMON: Dr. Murthy, your confirmation was held up in Congress after you had tweeted - I believe this is a quote - "guns are a health care issue." What did you mean by that, more gun control laws, what?

MURTHY: Here's what I would say - and here's what I meant when I wrote that tweet - violence of all kinds is a public health issue. When you have large numbers of people dying from preventable causes, that's a health care issue. That's a public health issue. That's what I said. That's, in fact, what C. Everett Koop said when he was Surgeon General, and that's what the leading medical and nursing organizations have said for many years. I want to find a way that we can reduce violence in America. And I think you wouldn't be hard-pressed to find parents or families of victims or health care practitioners who would disagree.

SIMON: Do I properly note any significance to the fact that you don't seem to be calling for more gun control laws?

MURTHY: Well, what I'm calling for is for more common sense. We may see various issues around violence as highly politicized because of how they're covered or how they're spoken about in public settings. These problems that we face are not problems that one party or one sector can solve on their own. But it's going to take real partnership and working together across the community that will help us address the great health care challenges that our country is facing.

SIMON: Dr. Murthy, I've - C. Everett Koop, he was morally opposed to abortion. He was opposed to abortion as a physician. Arguably, in part, he was even appointed surgeon general because of his opposition to abortion. But he decided, as surgeon general, that had nothing with public health, and he operated in a different way. I wonder if you take any queue from that. That you can - as a public official, there's a difference between your private convictions and what your responsibilities are as a public official.

MURTHY: Well, the responsibility of the surgeon general is to make sure that the public has access to science and access to it in a way that is understandable and that is applicable to their everyday lives. That's the approach that C. Everett Koop took because he recognized that regardless of personal beliefs, that the job of surgeon general is to make sure that we are using the best possible scientific information to benefit the public. And that will be my approach as well.

SIMON: Dr. Vivek Murthy, surgeon general of the United States. Thanks very much for being with us, doctor.

MURTHY: Thank you so much, Scott. It was great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.