Surgeon General Vivek Murthy revealed during the White House news briefing Thursday that he’s lost 10 family members to the coronavirus.
Murthy, who joined the briefing in an effort to urge Americans to get their shots amid lagging vaccination rates, was candid about his own experience during the pandemic. His family members who died were in both the U.S. and India. He said it was “painful” to know that “nearly every death we are seeing now” from Covid-19 in the U.S. could have been prevented with vaccines.
“I say that as someone who has lost 10 family members to Covid-19 and who wishes each and every day that they had had the opportunity to get vaccinated,” Murthy told reporters.
Murthy said misinformation has been a significant contributor to vaccine hesitancy. He said roughly two-thirds of people who haven’t gotten the vaccination believe, to some degree, common myths about the shots. Some of this misinformation has been amplified by social media, he said.
“We’ve got to recognize sometimes the most trusted voices are not the ones that have the most followers on social media or the ones that have the most name recognition,” Murthy said.
This wasn’t the first time Murthy, who made history during the Obama administration as the nation’s youngest surgeon general and first of Indian descent, has spoken about the loss of family members.
Earlier this year, he spoke about his loved ones who died in India, which suffered a mass outbreak, leading many to criticize the government’s decision to allow crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies. An estimated 5.6 percent of those in the country are fully vaccinated, and the death toll stands at more than 410,000. Murthy had also said he has family members in the U.S. who died, including his great-uncle, whom he was close to.
Murthy’s experience is similar to that of many other members of the Indian diaspora, who experts say are experiencing collective grief over an unprecedented, large-scale tragedy during this pandemic.
“We can see the tragedy happening in South Asia. Social media is interconnecting us, and WhatsApp, we are hearing from family and friends, and that gets amplified,” K. “Vish” Viswanath, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, previously told NBC News. “Everyone is touched by this.”
The surgeon general’s most recent comments follow the release of an advisory on confronting Covid-19 misinformation. The document — which included suggestions for people in various roles like educators, health professionals and media can do to prevent the spread of such ideas — called stemming the spread of misinformation a “whole-of-society effort.”
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has sowed confusion, reduced trust in public health measures, and hindered efforts to get Americans vaccinated,” the advisory read. “And misinformation hasn’t just harmed our physical health—it has also divided our families, friends, and communities.”
Roughly 48.5 percent of Americans are vaccinated. However, the U.S. has missed benchmarks set by the Biden administration. The nation failed to meet the goal of having 70 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot by July 4. Demand for vaccines has also been slowing, while daily infections in the U.S. have doubled in the past few weeks, with an average of roughly 24,000 cases per day.