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On Dec. 13, Pfizer began shipping out the first 2.9 million COVID-19 vaccines in the United States following an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. Today, the FDA also endorsed the Moderna vaccine which they will soon authorize as well.
Healthcare workers and nursing home residents, the first to be immunized, have already started to receive the vaccines. America’s coronavirus lockdown began just nine months ago. Nine months to develop, test, and authorize the use of a vaccine tasked with carrying out the USA’s largest mass-vaccination to date has been no easy feat. Many think the medical community worked a miracle of speed. Others, however, worry that rushing the vaccine will do more harm than good.
According to History of Vaccines, the multi-step process of designing a vaccine usually takes between 10 and 15 years. With COVID, years of clinical trials along with licensing and manufacturing were overlapped into just a few months. Given what clearly looks to have been an extremely expedited process, many Americans wonder, “How can we know the long-term effects of this vaccine if we don’t wait?”
Although the chances are low, scientists cannot be sure of the long-term effects without waiting to actually see what they are. There have already been numerous reports of side-effects in the short term amongst vaccine trials. Side effects have ranged from body aches to fevers, to fatigue. Recently, a claim spread that four (out of 38,000) Pfizer trial members contracted bell’s palsy, a condition that causes facial paralysis. The CDC claims that there is “no known or expected causal relationship between the vaccine and bell’s palsy,” but these claims still feed into skepticism. Despite the word of scientists, many people around the country are doubtful, including some students at Grace who have voiced their concerns of possible side-effects.
In a survey sent out to the high school by the Grace Gazette, only 48.7% (red) would be willing to take the vaccine as soon as possible. The others (41%) would wait and see what happens to the first round of people, while the remaining 10.3% had a range of ‘other’ answers.
Drew Lerner ‘21 said, “Due to the lack of time that has been spent on testing a vaccine for COVID-19, I feel as if it’s in my best interest to wait a bit longer to see the long term effects of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines,” says . He continued, saying, “In the past, vaccines have taken decades to produce […] I still believe that a vaccine for a virus that’s not even a year old seems a bit too rushed”
Another student commented, saying “I trust the vaccine and while I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I think I would want to see many other people take it before me. But I am also aware of the immense privilege I have in saying that, that I can wait to see other people get the vaccine first, and it is not a matter of life or death for me”
The PEW Research Center found that just 60% of Americans trust the vaccines — fifteen percent less than Grace. It’s unsurprising: Grace is an independent school in NYC, and that same PEW study shows that left-leaning, post-grad, upper-class people are most likely to trust the vaccine.
In other communities, few people have faith in the vaccines. For example, many Black people across America who have been neglected by the medical system for hundreds of years (e.g Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Forced Sterilization, etc) are rightfully skeptical. Despite being hit harder by COVID than any other group of people, the PEW study shows that only 42% of Black people trust the vaccine compared to 61% of White people, 63% of Latinos, and 83% of Asians. So how can the country convince skeptics to get vaccinated?
Of course, if the US government mandated vaccination, it would cause a public uprising. Companies and schools are well-aware of widespread skepticism; hence, many non-essential businesses may not require vaccination. The companies that do, however, will be allowed to fire employees that refuse to get vaccinated (with some exceptions). Vaccine mandates will inevitably cause turbulence, so there must be another way to try to convince skeptics.
One economist, Robert Litan, says that the US government should incentivize the vaccine and pay people up to $200 for getting vaccinated. When the country reaches the threshold percentage for herd immunity, he says the government should give each person an additional $800. The total cost would amount to about 275 billion dollars though, and as of now, politicians are struggling to pass the next stimulus bill. Incentivizing the vaccine for hundreds of billions of dollars seems like an unrealistic approach.
Other partial solutions include celebrity support and TV advertisements—what some could see as vaccine propaganda. Given that we’re only a few days into this massive vaccination effort, it is not a surprise that some remain skeptical. As time goes on, and perhaps as the first Americans are safely vaccinated, others should begin to trust the vaccination more. For now, we must patiently wait for our turn in the long line to get our shot and wait and see how everything unfolds.