“So, what did your doctor say?”
That’s the question I ask when confronted by COVID vaccine naysayers. Sometimes there’s an awkward silence that follows. However, with nearly 90% of American doctors vaccinated, I encourage hesitant friends to ask their physician why he feels it’s safe.
Vaccine hesitancy is the newest buzz phrase. It describes Americans that fall within a spectrum between the extremes of those who embrace vaccine science and history, and extreme anti-vaxxers who see a clockwork of diabolical conspiracies with each inoculation. Between these two extremes are most others who are hesitant because of their sincere concern over something new, urgent, and based on science that is not easily grasped by most folks — me included.
For that middle group, many of their concerns — while sincere — are unfounded and sparked by rumor, deliberate misinformation, or contrarianism. Sometimes the reason given for the hesitancy may mask the patient’s actual concern.
Nonetheless, their anxieties are real to them and can be frightening. It is important that we try to understand this hesitancy and to convey the science in a way that can be grasped, understood, and acted upon. We need to point to the urgency of this pandemic with its deadly variants. In short, we must rely on evidence, science, and history to reassure our friends and relatives that the COVID vaccine is safe, effective, and vital to ending the pandemic.
Science has had many vaccine victories, wiping out diseases many of which are now happily forgotten. These include polio, measles, whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox, smallpox, Hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, yellow fever, smallpox, and many more.
Reasons for the current vaccine hesitancy have been studied and polled. According to the respected PEW Research Center, hesitancy often includes: (a) distrust of the federal government and public health officials; (b) mixed messages about vaccines on social media and some television news; and (c) worries about long-term side effects.
Here’s what research shows about vaccine hesitancy:
• The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that about 13% of American adults won’t take a COVID-19 vaccine no matter what information is available.
• According to the PEW Research Center, there is a political identification factor also at play, with Republican males being the most resistant with over 30% saying they don’t want one.
• Early last year, the Trump administration made demonstrably false claims that the coronavirus had been contained and infections were declining, despite statistics showing rising numbers. This, coupled with the politicization of mask-wearing, impacted citizens’ ability to make factually informed decisions.
• For people who said they would “definitely not” receive a vaccine, the most common reason, at 17%, was that the vaccines are too new.
However, there are solid reasons for getting vaccinated:
• All living presidents were confidently vaccinated and, with one exception, did so publicly on television.
•The vaccines clock-in at nearly 100% efficacy at preventing hospitalization and COVID death. Further, the vaccinated have a very low probability of infection and transmission.
• Conversely, unvaccinated folks are susceptible not only to COVID, but also to variant strains and infecting others, particularly children.
• The death and hospitalization rates are dropping like a stone as vaccinations increase.
The COVID vaccine is an historic accomplishment. Americans should take great pride in our contribution to ending this scourge. Normally it takes years to develop a vaccine. However, with the Trump administration’s “Warp Speed” initiative, coupled with President Biden’s mass distribution and inoculation systems, we are well on our way to beating-back the pandemic.
When all is said and done, economics may make the decision. Insurance companies, colleges, and employers will likely use incentives and disincentives to encourage vaccination.
Instead of shaming people who are hesitant, it’s important to understand their concerns and help dispel myths about vaccines. At the end of the day, everyone wants verifiable, scientific information. And we all want this pandemic to be in the rear-view mirror. The vaccine is our ticket out of this.
Trust your physician — not social media memes. When confronted by hesitant friends and family, kindly ask, “What did your doctor say?”
Frank Wood taught in Lake County schools for 32 years and is a past Lake County Teacher of the Year.
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