CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was pressed Friday as to whether she supports or foresees a federal vaccine mandate, as the Biden administration publicly laments continued vaccine hesitancy in parts of the country.
Walensky told "Special Report" anchor Bret Baier that she and President Biden are "looking into" whether or not to establish a mandate.
"Are you for mandating a vaccine on a federal level?" Baier asked.
"That's something that I think the administration is looking into. It's something that I think we are looking to see approval of from the vaccine," Walensky replied.
"Overall, I think in general, I am all for more vaccination. But, I have nothing further to say on that except that we are looking into those policies."
Walensky added that any vaccine mandates currently in place are strictly on the local or corporate level.
In response, Baier asked what Walensky would say to the swath of the American people that believe they should have full control of what happens to their body and what they inject themselves with, whether for religious, personal or other reasons.
"I completely understand the pushback," she responded, adding that the COVID jab would not be the first vaccine to be mandated for institutions like public schools and the like – as polio, pertussis and other shots are already standardized.
She said that as a former chief epidemiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, she was mandated to receive an influenza shot every year to be able to hold her job.
"I understand both perspectives," she said, adding that when it comes to medical staff that are reticent to receive the vaccine, that dynamic is simply the product of a "heterogeneous country."
"Some people haven't had access. Some people haven't had time off. Some people don't understand its benefits. Some people are worried about the side effects. So I think as we go and try and provide information to people who are not yet vaccinated," she said, adding that the CDC must take charge of understanding vaccine hesitancy and respond with information that may convince such folks otherwise.
Walensky later "clarified" her statement on Twitter, writing "There will be no nationwide mandate. I was referring to mandates by private institutions and portions of the federal government. There will be no federal mandate."
Walensky pointed to the VAERS reporting system, a web portal highlighted by Fox News host Tucker Carlson in recent months that allows Americans to self-report however unverified adverse reactions to any current vaccine.
"We are watching this incredibly carefully through numerous different safety systems," Walensky claimed, citing VAERS and other reporting systems that transmit information between hospitals and the feds.
She told Baier there have been "very rare signals" of adverse data and have summarily investigated them.
"What I would say is we have vaccinated 164 million Americans. So we have an extraordinary amount of data since December as we started getting vaccinating people," she said. "So I have extraordinary confidence in the safety of these vaccines."
Baier also pressed Walensky on concerns that the government continues to issue mitigation guidance and edicts to Americans, while there are continuing reports of untested, unvaccinated or symptomatic illegal immigrants flowing over the southern border into Texas from Mexico as the crisis there intensifies.
He offered the case of a viewer whose family lives in Austria and has not been able to visit due to EU and US restrictions, but has watched coverage of migrants continuing unimpeded in that regard into the United States.
In one recent case, a customer at a burger restaurant in La Joya, Texas, alerted authorities after a migrant family was seen wheezing and unmasked. It was later discovered that Catholic Charities had booked a group of migrants released by the Border Patrol, some symptomatic, into a motel next door without either organization alerting Texas officials.
Walensky replied that the CDC offers "technical assistance" to officials at the southern border, and still issues "infection-prevention guidelines" for migrants and others in those areas.
But, she went on to claim that the "quite high" infection rate in southern states cannot be completely attributed to the border crisis:
"I think what we really need to do is spend our time getting our communities vaccinated to getting our individuals vaccinated to prevent disease from transmitting in our communities."
Baier also asked Walensky why there has been such a wait for the Food & Drug Administration's formal approval of the vaccine – which is technically still under "Emergency Use Authorization".
Under EUA status, the FDA allows the use of "unapproved medical products" or their "unapproved use" for mass treatment in emergency situations – when "there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives."
"I don't know the FDA's timeline or plans. I will leave that squarely with the FDA," Walensky replied.
"What I do know is that the due diligence on the science and the review and the epidemiologic data need to be done, and the FDA is working hard to do so."
Walensky was later pressed on critics across the country who are frustrated or concerned that their young children must be forced to wear masks in school, as well as concerns from other parents who fear another year of online learning outside the classroom.
Baier noted that AFT Union President Randi Weingarten gave what "sounds like a maybe" about reopening public schools for the 2021-22 school year:
"Who are the advocates for the children and the parents, which teachers unions have not been at least in that particular question," he asked, noting that public schools and teachers unions are a "stakeholder" in CDC decisions in this regard.
"What we have seen in schools is that when the children come into schools with disease in the community, it can spread in schools if the children are not masked," Walensky replied. "And so, when we have high rates of disease in the community, we are going to see some cases in the schools."
"These kids go back to homes where they have parents. They have immunocompromised parents. They have other children in the household: So really what we are trying to do is prevent spread in the schools and in the communities," the Potomac, Md., native continued, adding that she understands the concerns of parents as a mother of three herself.