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THE 600-WORD INTERVIEW: The guy who saved Healthcare.gov, and just helped Biden get 150 million Americans vaccinated, explains why we shouldn’t just pay people to take the vaccine

Summary List PlacementAndy Slavitt was the guy who saved Healthcare.gov – and by extension the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Then ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for two years. This year, President Joe Biden asked him to oversee the vaccine rollout. Now he has a new book out called "Preventable." Our conversation is condensed and edited for clarity. 600,000 people died from COVID-19, but a lot of people think this was an act of God and no one could have done better than Trump did.  The president spent a large part of his time denying the existence of...

Andy Slavitt

Summary List Placement

Andy Slavitt was the guy who saved Healthcare.gov – and by extension the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Then ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for two years. This year, President Joe Biden asked him to oversee the vaccine rollout. Now he has a new book out called “Preventable.”

Our conversation is condensed and edited for clarity.

600,000 people died from COVID-19, but a lot of people think this was an act of God and no one could have done better than Trump did. 

The president spent a large part of his time denying the existence of the bug, denying its severity, and promising miracle cures, etc. That cost a lot of lives. 

He quashed any dissent within the administration. And as it comes out in the book, in February 2020, he put a ban on anybody from [the Department of Health and Human Services], talking to the public for 45 days. 

The President played into divisions in the country to essentially stymie any kind of response. He turned it into a tribal battle. We ended up with a response that was every person for themselves. 

So the pain fell disproportionately on people driving food to distribution centers and working in meatpacking plants, working in grocery stores. People living in public housing, people experiencing homelessness. They were bearing the brunt of things.

People mocked President Trump for his claims that a vaccine would be available in 2020. But it happened. Does he deserve more credit for Operation Warp Speed?

Well, Operation Warp Speed was really the brainchild of someone named Peter Marks, a career civil servant inside the FDA. [Marks] developed a very clever plan along with Tony Fauci, and Rick Bright, also career civil servants, to basically embed the FDA approval process directly with the pharma companies so that you will reduce all the back and forth. That was smart.

Now, what the Trump administration did is they supported that effort when it was started and they got it funded.

And then [as for] Trump saying something’s going to happen or something, not. I mean, there’s a certain phenomenon called when you lie a lot, people are going to believe you less.

We handed out a lot of money over the past year or so. Why didn’t we just pay people to take the vaccine?

It’s not clear that you can do that. But there are tax credits for people who get time off to get vaccinated.

And if you look at the data, a large portion of the people who aren’t taking the vaccine don’t trust the government. I think people want to hear from their employers, their doctors, the pharmacist. 

We have to respect the fact that some people will take longer to make the decision to get vaccinated. Dissent is necessarily irrational. It’s just for some people, it’s a much more considered decision. We have to respect that process. 

Are we headed for another lockdown every five to 10 years?

No, I don’t think that’s our destiny. There are lessons we need to learn from the last couple of years, including how to make sure that we don’t politicize a situation like this, and how we solve some of the technical issues.

But also we should be more supportive of one another. Because if all we end up doing is prioritizing our own individual rights, then when it comes to things like pandemics, you know, we’re going to have contagious infectious diseases that are going to do much more harm.

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