Side Effects | Carolyn Cui
Tomorrow, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), which assesses data regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines intended for disease prevention and treatment, will discuss Emergency Use Authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.
On the 17th, the VRBPAC will meet again to discuss Authorization for Moderna’s vaccine.
Both vaccines will be heading into the meeting with high efficacy rates: 95% and 94.5%, respectively, according to early data publicized by both groups. Yet despite these numbers, a large proportion of Americans continue to express distrust towards the vaccine.
Over the past few weeks, the percentage of Americans who intend to get a vaccine has risen, but will it be enough? As research progresses and early results from hopeful vaccines emerge, the Pew Research Center has been keeping track of how Americans feel about a COVID-19 vaccine.
In September, only 51% of the adults questioned in a survey said they’d probably, if not definitely, get the vaccine; the other 49% responded that they would probably or definitely not get the vaccine. In November, this rate rose to 60% out of 12,648 adults. Confidence in a vaccine has also risen 10% since September, but only 37% said they would feel comfortable being amongst the first to receive the vaccine.
There are myriad reasons for such widespread hesitancy, ranging from partisan influence from the highest office in the land to conflicting information from credible sources like the Center for Disease Control to false information being propagated through social media. The hesitancy we see today is a side effect of an increasingly dangerous narrative exacerbated by conflicting information and touted by a surprising number of Americans.
As the number of infections climbs daily alongside an equally staggering number of deaths, mistrusting the vaccine because of presumed “anti-science” beliefs simply can’t be brushed off anymore–not with so many lives hanging in the balance.
Despite their proven effectiveness, we’ve seen an increase in a certain prominent group over the last two decades: the anti-vaccine community, dubbed “anti-vaxxers.” It’s a common notion that this community is most active in white and wealthy areas, but recent polls have shown hesitance in marginalized communities too. In a poll conducted by AP-NORC, a mere 25% of Black respondents and 37% of Hispanic respondents said they’d be willing to get a vaccine whenever it became available. These numbers are especially concerning, considering both communities are at the highest risk of infection, alongside Indigenous communities. Given a history of medical racism and discrimination though, this statistic isn’t exactly surprising.
Concern also stems from those questioning pharmaceutical companies and their motives — could it be that they already have a vaccine and are keeping it for themselves while Americans continue to suffer? Dozens of other conspiracy theories continue to make their rounds on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, driving the wedge between science and the populace even deeper.
The companies that are releasing these vaccines, news outlets, and our government all have to take into consideration all these factors if we want to start controlling COVID-19 instead of letting it control us. The wedge that’s been driven is deep but not irreconcilable–change is still possible. But it takes small steps to achieve change, such as making a greater effort to understand the concerns of marginalized communities. If we want to make change happen, there is not a better time than now.