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Vaccines define the path to putting the pandemic in the rear-view mirror.
Mapping apps for smartphones conveniently calculate the fastest driving route from point A to point B, making it easy for millions of people to avoid delays from traffic or accidents and get to their destinations quickly and safely.
The “app” to get society on the fastest route out of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and health threats is readily available in the United States: effective vaccines that have greatly reduce or prevent infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. A significant segment of the population, however, is hesitant to use the tool, or have decided to wait out the delays.
Is the science behind the vaccines too complicated to communicate effectively? Are informed messages reaching target audiences? Is distrust of the government, biopharmaceutical companies, and the medical profession to blame for hesitancy? Is accessibility a factor? Or do people respond to what they want to hear, not what they need to hear?
Despite intense public outreach and education efforts, a slowing uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is hampering efforts to shut down the virus spread as quickly as officials would like. And the large segment of the US populace that is unvaccinated is susceptible to the virus and its variants. A survey of public perceptions about vaccines reveals a variety of reasons some people are hesitant to get vaccinated, with many reasons tied to misinformation and distrust (1).
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) asked adults about five common misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine: that you can get COVID-19 from the vaccine; the vaccines contain fetal cells, cause infertility, or change your DNA; or you should not get the vaccine if you had COVID-19. In April 2021, more than half of those surveyed (54%) either believed one of the misconceptions to be true or did not know if the statements were true or false.
Overall, more than 70% of the US public surveyed by KFF in the past few months were very or somewhat confident that vaccines were safe. For the vaccine-hesitant group, however, there does not seem to be an effective argument to convince them to get vaccinated. Less than one-third of the vaccine-hesitant surveyed said they would be convinced to get inoculated if they were told the rapid vaccine development was supported by 20 years of previous research or if FDA grants full approval.
More than 40% of the vaccine-hesitant said the knowledge that the vaccines were effective in preventing hospitalizations was convincing; however, more than one-third of the people in the wait-and-see category planned to wait for more than a year to get vaccinated.
Vaccine side effects—and suspicions that the vaccines may not be as safe as advertised—were major concerns, as were worries that the vaccine may negatively impact fertility or that side effects will cause them to miss work.
Perhaps more telling is anecdotal comments from people who feel the virus will not affect them; they are healthy, so they won’t get very sick if they are infected; or they are protected if others around them are vaccinated.
This vaccine hesitancy—combined with emerging virus variants—suggests that the threat of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be with us for some time. Fortunately, researchers are working on the next generation of vaccines. In mid-June 2021, the National Institutes of Health reported the Novavax subunit vaccine demonstrated 90.4% efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease in a Phase III clinical (2).
Vaccines are the route out of the pandemic. We need to convince more people of the validity of the technology and to switch to the fast lane.
1. Kaiser Family Foundation, “KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor” www.kff.org, accessed June 25, 2021.
2. NIH, “US Clinical Trial results Show Novavax Vaccine Is Safe and Prevents COVID-19,” Press Release, June 14, 2021.
Rita Peters is editorial director of Pharmaceutical Technology.
Vol. 45, No. 7
When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Avoiding Delays on the Road to Normalcy,” Pharmaceutical Technology, 45 (7) 2021.