Our country has been in a pandemic for seventeen months for which we have an effective vaccine, yet COVID-19 cases continue to increase at an alarming rate. Currently, this dramatic acceleration of cases is evident in several states. Furthermore, these areas with a high number of COVID-19 cases are associated with low vaccination rates.
These unfortunate statistics lead us to ponder the multitude of reasons that Americans refrain from getting vaccinated. First, to put it bluntly, there are many Americans who do not trust vaccines. Some believe that vaccines developed too quickly. Others don’t trust the institutions that developed the vaccines. People are skeptical of the government or health system motives for creating these vaccines. Many people buy various conspiracy theories surrounding these institutions.
Other people hesitate to get vaccinated due to side effects. Some of these side effects are to be expected, such as fatigue and a low fever, and some are unproven effects that some people anticipate despite any associated evidence, such as infertility.
Others are choosing not to get vaccinated because they don’t see COVID as a real threat. Despite the morbidity and mortality rates, they still view COVID as other viruses, such as influenza.
So the question is, if the COVID case rate is inversely proportional to the vaccination rate of an area, how can we improve vaccination rates? I think the answer to this is by increasing efforts to educate the public about the safety of these vaccines, both on a large and small scale.
At the national level, we need a large-scale education campaign to improve public awareness. I think this should take the form of a big CDC media campaign. There may be public service announcements that dispel common myths such as “we don’t know what these vaccines contain.” What is in each vaccine could be clearly explained. The scientific principles of how vaccines work could be described in a basic way to teach Americans about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines.
The campaign could focus on key facts. It would clearly delineate that mRNA vaccines do not use live virus. People can also rest assured that vaccines do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. It should also be noted that researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades.
Next, politicians on both the right and the left must stand in the middle to assure the public that vaccines are safe. Blue states and red states should not have very different vaccination rates. The vaccine should not be viewed as the brainchild of “liberals,” when the Trump administration spent billions to fund Operation Warp Speed. The COVID virus is not preferential to a particular political party, and neither should the vaccine.
On a personal level, doctors should talk to their patients about vaccine safety at every appointment. Sharing anecdotes like, “I gave my teens the vaccine” or “I didn’t have any major side effects” can be helpful for anxious patients. An extra five minutes of patient education in a meeting can make a difference in vaccinating an entire family.
Education is the key to improving vaccination rates and therefore overcoming the pandemic. People must believe that vaccines are safe and effective in reducing future waves of COVID-19.
Sarah C. Smith He is a family doctor.
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