Vaccine Distrust

Most authorities would be pleased with the current level of public acceptance of the Covid-19 vaccines. In most communities the demand has far exceeded the supply of vaccine. Recent bad weather has delayed shipment of vaccine to many regions resulting in the cancellation of numerous “shot clinics.” Some are resorting to various methods to “jump the line” and receive shots before their designated age or risk category. The media “sensationalized” the seriousness of the disease by focusing stories of patients on ventilators and reporting daily numbers of deaths and “new cases.” The media “body counts” and other Covid-related stories generated a significant amount of fear and willingness to accept the vaccines when they became available. Despite the realization that we were dealing with a potentially deadly disease, there was still a degree of skepticism that the vaccines were produced too quickly and the irrational hatred for President Trump led prominent politicians and entertainers to say they would not take the vaccine. Such nonsense undermined confidence in the vaccines. Everyone involved in the research and development of the vaccines, both within federal agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, have assured Americans that no shortcuts were taken in the process. Confidence in the vaccines has grown as more Americans received the vaccines with few incidents. Acceptance remains limited among minorities who have the most to gain from the vaccines. In particular African Americans are three times more likely than whites to die if infected with the Covid-19 virus.

Minority communities have varying degrees of mistrust for the medical establishment dating back to the infamous Tuskegee Study. This disgraceful, unethical research conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service looked at the effects of untreated syphilis in black Alabama sharecroppers. Blacks felt betrayed by the medical establishment dating back to the beginning of the Tuskegee Study in 1932 and some of that same fear continues today. It is easy to understand why trust in a government-sponsored vaccine effort may be lacking. At the beginning of 2021 a Consumer Reports survey found that 42% of blacks that had yet to receive either of the current vaccines said they were likely NOT to take a Covid-19 vaccine. Among Hispanics the number was 33% and among whites it was 31%. The percentage of blacks declining the vaccine is higher among young men and women. In the group of blacks age 60 and above the rate of acceptance (saying they WILL take the vaccine) was a resounding 80%. Vaccine distribution and access has thus far been more limited in many minority communities. That will hopefully change as more local clinics and pharmacies begin to participate in the vaccine distribution network. On February 19, Pfizer proposed an update to their Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that would permit their Covid-19 vaccine to be stored at -13F to 5F for a total of two weeks. Typical of most standard freezers, it would permit the vaccine to be stored in nearly any clinic or pharmacy. This should dramatically increase access in minority neighborhoods. It would also open up the possibility of mobile vaccine clinics where a bus or van could set up in a school or church parking lot and administer vaccine to large numbers of individuals at multiple sites. We will soon have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved which carries even less stringent storage requirements. The real task ahead will be regaining minority trust in the medical community.

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