The COVID-19 Vaccine Blind Spot

December 2, 2020
Felicity Thomas

Editor of Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-12-02-2020, Volume 44, Issue 12

Transparency and open-dialogue are vital to sway the vaccine-hesitant community.

Positive news has been issued recently regarding COVID-19 vaccine candidates; however, with the ‘smooth’ inevitably comes some ‘rough’, which is in the form of increased conspiracy theories around COVID-19 and the safety of the vaccines being produced. As reported in The Guardian, within hours of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine development news, where interim results showed 90% effectiveness (1), there was a surge in anti-vaxxer activity on social media seeking to discredit the results (2).

The spread of misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines has led to calls in the United Kingdom for a debate over whether there should be legal ramifications for those involved. In the Evening Standard it was reported that Neil Basu, assistant commissioner, Metropolitan Police, has called for discussion over the introduction of new laws to punish those spreading anti-vaccination conspiracy theories (3). “There is a debate for society to have about free speech and responsibility and people who are spreading misinformation that could cost people’s lives,” Basu said (3).

Vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy is not a new issue and is certainly not isolated to COVID-19. A recent measles outbreak within Europe has demonstrated the ability for anti-vaccination campaigns to affect and sway people from being vaccinated (4).

According to a global survey undertaken by Ipsos, the number of people who would be vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine outweighs the number who wouldn’t in most countries, but some European countries ranked quite low in terms of public confidence in vaccine safety (5). Notably, Poland, Hungary, and France had the lowest rates of intention to be vaccinated with only 56%, 56%, and 59% of those surveyed, respectively, saying they would be vaccinated. The European countries that were more inclined to get vaccinated were the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands, where 85%, 72%, and 71% of those surveyed, respectively, indicated an intention to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Yet, to achieve ‘herd’ immunity, it is imperative that a large proportion of the population is vaccinated. As reported in The European Journal of Health Economics for Europe, to achieve herd immunity at least 74% of the population needs to be vaccinated (6). Therefore, overcoming misgivings and improving confidence in vaccination programmes are of critical importance to ensure overall success.

Vaccine complacency

There is some complacency surrounding vaccines. Generally speaking, this complacency may be a result of the eradication of certain diseases, such as polio and smallpox, which could lead to forgetfulness as to how vaccines are effective tools in epidemics. However, there is also a potential ‘blind spot’ in terms of how information is being presented and whether there is a lack of transparency.

A recent paper, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, from The Royal Society has specified that the immediate requirement for managing public expectations and transparent dialogue with the general public are essential for effective vaccine uptake (7). “We must learn from lessons of history and move away from the one-way provision of information and instead generate an open dialogue that addresses misinformation and does not dismiss people’s real vaccine concerns and hesitancy,” said Prof. Melinda Mills FBA, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, and lead author of the report, in a press release (8).

For the bio/pharma industry, total transparency, specifically pertaining clinical trial information, may have a compromising effect, but, continued efforts to build public trust and concerted efforts to answer questions from the vaccine-hesitant members of the public will go a long way to clearing the path to positive vaccination opinions.

Until 2021, stay alert, stay safe, and stay healthy.

References

  1. Pfizer, “Pfizer and BioNTech Announce Vaccine Candidate Against COID-19 Achieved Success in First Interim Analysis from Phase III Study,” Press Release, 9 Nov. 2020.
  2. H. Siddique, “Coronavirus: Anti-Vaxxers Seek to Discredit Pfizer’s Vaccine,” The Guardian, 10 Nov. 2020.
  3. M. Bentham, “Metropolitan Police Counter-Terror Chief Neil Basu Calls for Action on Coronavirus Anti-Vaxxers,” Evening Standard, 18 Nov. 2020.
  4. S. Boseley, “Measles Cases at Highest for 20 Years in Europe, as Anti-Vaccine Movement Grows,” The Guardian, 21 Dec. 2018.
  5. Ipsos, “Three in Four Adults Globally Say They Would Get a Vaccine for COVID-19,” Press Release, 31 Aug. 2020.
  6. S. Neumann-Böhme, et al., Eur. J. Health Econ., 21 (7) 977–982 (2020).
  7. The Royal Society, “COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment: Behaviour, Ethics, Misinformation, and Policy Strategies,” royalsociety.org, 21 Oct. 2020.
  8. The British Academy, “Vaccine Hesitancy Threatens to Undermine Pandemic Response,” Press Release, 10 Nov. 2020.

About the Author

Felicity Thomas is the European editor for Pharmaceutical Technology Group.

Article Details

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 32, No. 12
December 2020
Page: 5

Citation

When referring to this article, please cite it as F. Thomas, “The COVID-19 Vaccine Blind Spot,” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 32 (12) 2020.

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