NEHI's op-ed was featured in The Boston Globe, on Monday, October 5, 2020. Read more.
According to the Pew Research Center, if a COVID-19 vaccine were available today, only 51 percent of Americans would probably take the vaccine, according to its most recent survey. Five months ago, about 72 percent of Americans said they were likely to do so. While vaccine development has progressed at “warp speed,” public confidence in COVID vaccines has moved in reverse.
The nation’s confused and erratic response to the coronavirus pandemic has clearly contributed to this growing uncertainty. Moreover, underserved populations, such as Black Americans suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, have deeper suspicions and hesitancy regarding vaccine acceptance, probably borne of systemic racism and the racial politics of the 2020 election. Vaccine reluctance will not be overcome unless and until individuals are convinced, most likely by a trusted physician or other health care advisor, that the vaccine is safe and effective. The problem is that the Trump administration has inserted politics into the two federal agencies on which physicians and health care advisors traditionally rely for credible information — the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA’s misguided pronouncements on treatments and current promises of so-called warp-speed release of competing COVID vaccines, which vary by the day, have created deep mistrust of the approval process. Indeed, vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer recognized this in taking the highly unusual step of revealing details about their vaccine trials in advance of the trials’ conclusions. The CDC’s contradictory and confusing messages regarding prevention and testing have similarly generated grave concerns among the nation’s health care providers. This is especially debilitating. It is the CDC which is designated to determine vaccination guidelines, emergency allocation of vaccines, and support for vigorous outreach and communication to underserved populations.
In this environment, only influential stakeholders and organizations outside government can restore needed trust. They must provide truthful, accessible, science-based information about COVID-19 vaccines to the general public, particularly to populations at higher risk. Four tasks are urgent.