Billions are being poured into developing a shot, but the rapid timetable and President Trump’s cheerleading are creating a whole new group of vaccine-hesitant patients.
Jay Hoffman writes in the New York Times that almost daily, President Trump and leaders worldwide say they are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine, in perhaps the most urgent mission in the history of medical science. But the repeated assurances of near-miraculous speed are exacerbating a problem that has largely been overlooked and one that public health experts say must be addressed now: persuading people to actually get the shot.
A growing number of polls find so many people saying they would not get a coronavirus vaccine that its potential to shut down the pandemic could be in jeopardy. Distrust of it is particularly pronounced in African-American communities, which have been disproportionately devastated by the virus. But even many staunch supporters of immunization say they are wary of this vaccine.
“The bottom line is I have absolutely no faith in the F.D.A. and in the Trump administration,” said Joanne Barnes, a retired fourth-grade teacher from Fairbanks, Alaska, who said she was otherwise always scrupulously up-to-date on getting her shots, including those for shingles, flu and pneumonia. “I just feel like there’s a rush to get a vaccine out, so I’m very hesitant.”
Mistrust of vaccines has been on the rise in the U.S. in recent years, a sentiment that resists categorization by political party, educational background or socio-economic demographics. It has been fanned by a handful of celebrities. But now, anti-vaccine groups are attracting a new type of clientele altogether.
Jackie Schlegel, founder of Texans for Vaccine Choice, which presses for school vaccine exemptions, said that her group’s membership had skyrocketed since April. “Our phones are ringing off the hook with people who are saying, ‘I’ve gotten every vaccine, but I’m not getting this one,” she said. “‘How do I opt out?’” She said she often has to assure callers, “‘They’re not coming to your home to force-vax you.’”
The fastidious process to develop a safe, effective vaccine typically takes a decade; some have taken far longer. But the administration of Mr. Trump, himself once an outspoken vaccine skeptic, has been saying recently that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready this fall. While it has removed certain conventional barriers, such as funding, many experts still believe that the proposed timeline could be unduly optimistic.
But whenever a coronavirus vaccine is approved, the assumption has been that initial demand would far outstrip supply. The need to establish a bedrock of confidence in it has largely gone overlooked and unaddressed.