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thumbnail Veteran Dr. Adam Robinson was the 36th Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy and now serves as director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Veteran Dr. Adam Robinson was the 36th Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy and now serves as director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Former Navy Surgeon General wants Veterans to know that vaccines are safe and effective for most

January 5, 2021

By Erica Sprey
VA Research Communications

"I have looked at this carefully, especially from a public health point of view. I just want to encourage people to sign up, to get the vaccine."

Vaccines work: That is a concept that Dr. Adam Robinson wants Veterans and their family members to understand. He says medical science has long ago established that vaccines are able to protect most people from catching serious diseases like measles and whooping cough.

Robinson, who served as the 36th Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy and is now director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu, Hawaii, knows that vaccination programs are safe and effective for most people. That is why he volunteered to participate in VA's COVID-19 research program to test a new vaccine to combat the coronavirus.

Vaccines are an effective measure against disease

His decision to volunteer was influenced by his mentor, Dr. Eugene Weinberg, a professor of biology at Indiana University. During his medical training, Robinson learned that "infectious disease is one of those defining human experiences. The black plague, typhoid fever, smallpox … these and other diseases have substantial death rates. The way you conquer them is not only through effective public health measures, but through effective vaccination programs."

Robinson says he has vivid memories of his father, who was a doctor, administering the polio vaccine to his brothers and sisters at home. "I'll never forget getting the Salk vaccine. It was a shot in the arm, and it hurt. Polio was a scourge for young children at the time. In some instances it caused death." Fortunately, none of Robinson's siblings fell ill with polio. They had been protected through vaccination.

Equal representation in clinical trials

Dr. Adam Robinson
Dr. Adam Robinson

Dr. Adam Robinson

As a physician, Robinson realizes that equal representation in clinical trials is critically important for a successful outcome. Researchers must know if a potential vaccine is equally effective in all groups of people—Black, white, Hispanic, Native American, and others. Scientists say it is also important to know if a vaccine will successfully protect people of different ages and genders.

Robinson says he understands why people of color may hesitate to participate in medical research. There have been episodes of unethical research involving Black Americans and other minority groups in America's past. But, he says that shouldn't stop people from protecting themselves and their loved ones.

"I have looked at this carefully, especially from a public health point of view. I just want to encourage people to sign up, to get the vaccine. I just love what the 90-year-old grandmother in Great Britain said about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, 'If I can, you can.' I feel the same way, 'If I can, you can.'"

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How to sign up: Anyone over the age of 18 can volunteer to participate in VA research by signing up for the COVID-19 research volunteer list. If you are eligible to participate in a study, you will be contacted by a study coordinator who will answer your questions and help you decide if you wish to participate.

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