NIH Chief Dr. Francis Collins Tells Fox News 'Politicized' Views on COVID Are 'Ruinous'

The "hyper-polarized, politicized view" of the COVID pandemic in the U.S. is "ruinous" and "history will judge harshly" those who have stood in the way of an effective response to it, according to Dr. Francis Collins, the outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health.

It was Collins' last day as director on Sunday, when he sat for an interview with Fox News host Brett Baier.

Despite over 60 percent of the United States being fully vaccinated and the government offering out booster shots, COVID numbers are quickly climbing in the country with the arrival of the Omicron variant, which it's feared could overwhelm health systems and lead to hundreds of millions of new cases.

Asked about people who say: "What happened to vaccination being the solution to getting back to normal life?" Collins said: "Vaccinations are going to be very much part of our solution here, and everybody should take advantage of them, but they're not perfect. This is where I get upset because people point to anecdotes of somebody who got sick even though they had been vaccinated and say: 'There, you see, it doesn't work.' That's way too simplistic."

He added that if a person gets COVID after a vaccination, the chances are the case will be "pretty mild."

"You'll have the sniffles maybe or sick for a day or two with a fever but you won't be in the ICU. The vaccinations are really good at protecting against severe disease. We should all take advantage of them."

Asked if taking Omicron seriously was his bottom-line message, Collins said it was.

Serious Warning About Omicron

"Yes, we've got to remember, this is the enemy. It's not the other people in the other political party. It's not the people on Facebook who are posting all sorts of crazy conspiracies. This is the enemy; we in this country have somehow gotten all fractured into a hyper-polarized, politicized view that never should have been mixed with public health. It's been ruinous and history will judge harshly those people who have continued to defocus the effort and focus on conspiracies and things that are demonstrably false."

He warned that the U.S. is in "for a world of trouble" in the next month or two, but said that "this is not one of those situations where we're just helplessly facing the oncoming virus."

"We have things we can do, and especially those are vaccines and boosters and being careful about masking again. And I know people are sick of hearing this, but the virus is not sick of us, it's thrown us a new curveball and we got to be ready to hit it."

He said it was "frustrating" that despite all the U.S.'s technological advances, there are still about 50 million unvaccinated Americans.

Baier agreed and Collins asked how that happened, and what role did social media, misinformation and political arguments play.

"This is the thing for me on my last day as NIH director that I find particularly frustrating," he said.

Asked whether he could definitively say that omicron is less severe than previous variants, Collins highlighted the early South African data showing fewer hospitalizations and severe cases with Omicron compared to previous COVID waves.

But he also highlighted that these findings may not apply to other countries, including the U.S., due to demographic differences. He noted that South Africa's average age was younger than the U.S.'s, and that many people in the country have had the Delta variant, meaning that they would have had some immunity to Omicron.

"They don't have boosters there, so we have that on our side. I just think we ought to be careful not to extrapolate from what we've seen, but I'm hopeful that that is an indication that while incredibly contagious, this virus is maybe a bit less likely to make people really sick and, obviously, that's something we've got to hope for or our health systems are going to be overwhelmed," Collins added.

NIH Director Dr Francis Collins
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins holds up a model of the coronavirus as he testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee looking into budget estimates on May 26, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Politicized views on the pandemic are “ruinous” and “history will judge harshly” those who have stood in the way of an effective response, Collins said. Sarah Silbieger/Getty