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Surgeon General Adams Speaks at the Sundwall Lecture

Attendees to the third annual David N. Sundwall Lectureship were given a unique opportunity: the chance to listen from and speak with the Surgeon General of the United States. Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, Surgeon General, joined participants from Utah and beyond to discuss national public health, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the role of government in reducing healthcare disparities.

The Sundwall Lectureship, which was established in 2017, annually invites public health policy experts to share their insights and expertise with a Utah audience. The Lectureship is usually held in-person in the Salt Lake Valley, but due to pandemic restrictions the lectureship was moved to an online format in 2020. The move allowed lecture organizers to reach out to Dr. Adams, whose busy schedule typically does not allow for travel to presentations outside of Washington D.C.

Dr. Adams’ main remarks were focused on the challenges the nation faces in the midst of a global pandemic. “The fact is, SARS COV-2 has shaken the world to its core,” he said. “We’ve struggled over the past nine to ten months in a race to protect human life from a new and deadly adversary...we are truly building the plane as we’re trying to fly it here, in regards to COVID-19.” The solution to the uncertainty, he said, is a rigorous adherence to the scientific method and all citizens carefully following public health measures such as masking and preparing for an eventual vaccine.

“I know that in Utah there are a number of folks out there who could benefit from a little more vaccine confidence,” said Dr. Adams. “In Utah 55.8% of children aged 6 months to 17 years received a flu shot last year, compared to a national rate of 62.6%. It is incredibly important that we all think of ourselves as purveyors of the truth to folks who may have questions about vaccines.”

Dr. Adams also noted that healthcare disparities are exacerbated in times of stress. Communities such as the Navajo Nation in Utah are often excluded in existing health systems and suffer negative health outcomes as a result. Events such as the pandemic threaten the already reduced level of care these communities receive. National and local programs need to focus on creating equitable conditions so that all communities can receive needed support.

Although the health challenges facing the nation are significant, Dr. Adams ended his remarks with confidence that the corps of American health workers and policy makers training now will be up to the task. Speaking to University of Utah students, he said, “What I ask of you is to realize today that you can be a leader. You don’t need to wait till tomorrow, you don’t need to wait till you graduate. Today you have the ability to leverage your platforms more than ever before. You have the power to leverage behavior change within your communities.”

The Surgeon General’s remarks were followed by a Q&A session in which participants and Utah students questioned Dr. Adams on a wide range of topics. The questions were moderated by Steven Lacey, PhD, Division Chief of the Division of Public Health at the University of Utah.

The third annual David N. Sundwall lecture is available for viewing online on YouTube.