NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This week, the Nashville Health Care Council and NashvilleHealth hosted “Conversations on Health Equity and Action to Eliminate Disparities: Part Two,” the second in a three-part series exploring health inequity and its long-standing threat to business and community growth and vitality. The conversation featured U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, M.D., MPH, and was moderated by Bill Frist, M.D., former U.S. Senate Majority Leader; Founder and Chairman, NashvilleHealth; and Partner, Cressey & Company.
As the 20th surgeon general of the United States, Adams oversees nearly 6,100 uniformed health officers who serve more than 800 locations throughout the U.S. and around the globe. He has created several initiatives to tackle our nation’s most pressing health issues, including: the opioid epidemic, oral health, and the links between community health and both economic prosperity and national security. During his time as an Indiana health commissioner, he led the state’s response to the Ebola virus and HIV. He is also a member of President Trump’s COVID-19 task force.
Adams began by addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on public health. “The pandemic has hit us hard, but it has particularly affected people of color, people with underlying conditions, and those who are older. There are a multitude of factors we could go through to explain this, but from my standpoint — and there’s good data to back this up — all of these reasons are rooted in social pre-existing conditions that conspire to reduce our resilience, opportunity and health,” he said.
In a vicious cycle, social determinants of health including access to transportation, childcare and safe and affordable housing can contribute to chronic medical conditions like diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease and high blood pressure. It should come as no surprise, said Adams, that these diseases are more common in vulnerable communities with higher concentrations of people of color. During the pandemic, social determinants of health make people more susceptible to COVID-19 and its more severe complications, including death.
Adams also discussed the “record pace” of progress toward a vaccine, therapeutics and diagnostics, which he attributed to the Administration’s emphasis on public-private partnerships. This advanced timeline is “nothing less than historic” as it can take decades to develop a vaccine, Adams said, but he noted this is only the first step. Ensuring all Americans have an equitable opportunity to be vaccinated and promoting vaccine confidence are key the protecting against COVID-19.
“It would be real shame if we did all this work, spent all this taxpayer money and actually have a vaccine to stop the pandemic, but it rages on because people aren’t able to get or willing to accept the vaccine,” he said. “Vaccines work. They are the safest and most effective public health intervention we’ve had in the last 50 years in this country and they play an important role in preventing the spread of disease. But they can only protect communities when all of those who are able to receive a vaccination are willing to do so.”
The Nashville Health Care Council will continue to offer relevant and timely virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Register now for the Council’s Trends & Influencers Series Pre-Election Discussion featuring David Wasserman, U.S. House Editor and Political Analyst, The Cook Political Report on October 8, 2020. For more information on upcoming programs at healthcarecouncil.com.