Scientists in the U.S. are concerned that the battle to control the coronavirus has become so politicized that many people may decide not to take a vaccine when one becomes available.
Several different companies are working to develop injections with the government having provided $10 billion of investment as part of ‘Operation Warp Speed’ which aims to deliver 300 million doses of a vaccine to Americans by January 2021.
But such is the current mistrust of politicians and even the worry that any such ‘cure’ may be being rushed, that it could lead to greater numbers deciding not to get the jab at all.
A Pew Research poll conducted last month found about half of US adults (51 percent) wouldn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine should one be available today. In May the figure was 72 percent.
Misinformation about the effects of a vaccine and the original causes behind the coronavirus pandemic have also contributed to the overall uncertainty.
‘Operation Warp Speed’ which aims to deliver 300 million doses of a vaccine to Americans by January 2021. Hundreds of vaccines in a pre-clinical testing phase
Adding to the worry, two major drug manufacturers halted their vaccine trials because of safety concerns.
There are hundreds of vaccines in a pre-clinical testing phase, but only four — those run by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca — are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials.
In August, more than a third of Americans said they would not get a vaccine against coronavirus even if it were to be free and approved by the FDA.
Sixty-five per cent of survey respondents say they would accept the offer and get themselves vaccinated while 35% said they would not.
Those who who say they would not be happy to get the injection also runs roughly along party political lines with less than half of Republicans (47%) saying they would take the jab but with 81% of Democrats ready to line up to be inoculated, according to the poll by Gallup.
‘As the situation stands today, the nation’s influencers — including health professionals, policymakers and leaders — who see a vaccine as a way forward may have their work cut out for them in persuading Americans to take advantage of such an option,’ Gallup said in a post announcing the findings.
‘Policymakers in government, healthcare, industry and education will need to anticipate that a significant proportion of the population will be hesitant to get a vaccine, even at no cost,’ the group said.
Some high profile voices are also expressing doubts over whether they would take the jab.
Elon Musk, 49, said he won’t get a coronavirus vaccine when they’re available because he’s ‘not at risk’, in an interview with the New York Times earlier this month
In September, Elon Musk revealed he would not get a coronavirus vaccine when available because he’s ‘not at risk’.
The Tesla and SpaceX founder said in a New York Times’ podcast that even when vaccines are readily accessible, he won’t take one.
When asked ‘Will you get a vaccine? What will you do with your own family?’ he curtly replied, ‘No, I’m not at risk for COVID. Nor are my kids.’
‘I mean this is a hot button issue where rationality takes a back seat. In the grand scheme of things what we have something with a very low mortality rate and high contagion,’ he said.
‘Vaccine hesitancy’ is one of the top-ten threats to global health according to the World Health Organization.
A protester holds an anti-vaccination sign in California. Several polls have suggested that Republicans are more likely to refuse a vaccine than Democrat supporters
There is also plenty of misinformation that has mostly been spread online through social media and a controversial documentary ‘Plandemic,’ in which discredited virologist Judy Mikovits claims a hypothetical COVID vaccine would ‘kill millions.’
Physician and medical misinformation expert at the City University of New York and Columbia University, Scott Ratzan, says anti-COVID vaccine sentiment is the result of ‘a massive assault on trust in government, in science and in public-health authorities.’
‘Throw in QAnon and people’s increasing impatience with the effect of the disease on their lives and livelihoods, and you have fertile ground to sow anti-science propaganda,’ Ratzan said to the New York Post. ‘It’s been like manna from heaven for hardcore anti-vaxxers.’
Rita Palma, seen first on left, is the founder of the anti-vax group My Kids, My Choice. She has seen a recent bump her in membership because of the doubt expressed publicly by politicians and personalities alike.
‘COVID is God’s gift to the vaccine-choice movement,’ she says. ‘It’s woken up so many people and put us in a national spotlight. People are finally questioning and having doubt about vaccines,’ Palma said
Rita Palma is the founder of the anti-vax group My Kids, My Choice.
‘COVID is God’s gift to the vaccine-choice movement,’ she says. ‘It’s woken up so many people and put us in a national spotlight. People are finally questioning and having doubt about vaccines,’ she told the Post.
Palma, 57, from New York started her group in 2006 which now has around 3,000 members.
‘I’ve been getting so many e-mails and texts from people,’ she says. ‘They don’t want the COVID vaccine. Even people who vaccinate their families are like, ‘Oh, no, I’m not taking that one.”
‘Even if God himself came down from the heavens and said it will do you no harm, I’d say ‘No thank you,’ Palma says. ‘I believe in a whole different way of taking care of the body. I believe in healthy foods, sunshine, love, Earth connection, exercise. I just don’t believe good health can ever be found in an injection.’
If fewer people decide to get the vaccine, then its overall effect will be diminished according to Johns Hopkins University which estimates between 70 and 90 percent of Americans will need to have coronavirus antibodies in order for society to reach herd immunity.
‘A vaccine won’t do much good unless we have a significant number of the population immunized,’ says Ratzan.
According to a recent Harris STAT poll, 78 percent of Americans are worried that a COVID-19 vaccine is being influenced more by politics than science.
‘Politicians giving public-health advice during the COVID-19 crisis has led to public confusion both about what is truth and what is fiction,’ said Nancy Kass, a professor of Bioethics and Public Health at Johns Hopkins to The Post.
‘It’s turned COVID into a political disease rather than a public-health problem.’
‘If Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, if the doctors, tell us that we should take it, then I’ll be first in line to take it,’ Sen. Kamala Harris stated during her vice presidential debate earlier this month. ‘But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it — then I’m not taking it.’
Some of the anti-Trump, anti-vaccine backlash has been created by members of the Democratic Party.
‘If Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, if the doctors, tell us that we should take it, then I’ll be first in line to take it,’ Sen. Kamala Harris stated during her vice-presidential debate. ‘But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it — then I’m not taking it.’
‘Politics has clearly been inserted into scientific discovery these past few months,’ says Rohan Arora, 19, an environmental health activist based in Washington, DC.
‘I’m really skeptical about whether these vaccines are being streamlined by credible researchers. Considering that this is an election year, it’s clear politicians have a vested interest in coming up with any solution to end this pandemic, even if the solution is just an ineffective PR facade.’
In another poll by Pew Research, 78 percent believe vaccines are being developed too quickly, before being safely tested safety and effectiveness are fully understood.
The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a paper suggesting that those in the public unwilling to take a COVID vaccine voluntarily ‘should incur a penalty’ — and a ‘relatively substantial’ one, including ’employment suspension or stay-at-home orders.’