by Arhana Aatresh (’23) | March 1, 2021
Since the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved for emergency use authorization last December, people have been lining up to receive the vaccine, even visiting pharmacies at the end of the day, vying for leftover doses. Unfortunately, there is a general mistrust of the coronavirus vaccine. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reported that one in three Americans were unsure about or against receiving the vaccine. In this column, I aim to clarify this mistrust with evidence and reason.
The misgivings of the coronavirus vaccine stem from many places. During the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis,” spanning from 1932 to 1972, black Americans were studied for syphilis and promised free healthcare in return. However, this promise was a lie. Due to the eventual revelation of the project’s coverup, black Americans’ participation in future medical studies decreased, resulting in a limited understanding of how to treat illnesses in this community. This trust between the black community and the government must be rebuilt for the vaccine to reach all populations.
Another prevalent concern is the so-called rushed development phase of the vaccine. Previously, the fastest time frame for vaccine development was four years in the 1960s for mumps. While the coronavirus vaccine development speed is unprecedented, it reflects improved modern technology. Additionally, as the vaccine became a top priority in the nation, developers received massive infusions of funding (in July, the Trump administration announced a nearly $2 billion contract with Pfizer and BioNTech for 100 million doses by December), which enabled more trials and efficient manufacturing (Moderna enrolled 30,000 people in their trials). Years of previous virus research have also contributed to the knowledge scientists have amassed. The short-term side effects, such as headache, fatigue, and soreness, are common to other vaccines as well. Rather than sickness and rushed development, these symptoms indicate that the immune system is developing an immune response against the virus, which it will harness in the case of future virus contraction.
The discovery of new coronavirus variants is further complicating vaccine rollout. According to Pfizer and BioNTech, the vaccine is not as effective against the new B.1.351 South African coronavirus strain that has spread in the UK, although it does provide some protection. Scientists are still recommending people get vaccinated to prevent new variants from further emerging while the companies explore booster shots for the strain.
In addition to mistrust, many people are simply reluctant to take the vaccine, citing a lack of knowledge about whether we can stop wearing masks and social distancing after vaccination. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, stated that we must have “75 percent, 80 percent of the population vaccinated” for herd immunity to be a possibility to end the pandemic. In order for this scenario to come to fruition, everybody needs to get vaccinated and continue safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing. Additionally, while vaccines prevent one from contracting COVID-19, there is no guarantee that a vaccinated person can not asymptomatically spread the virus; however, vaccination is still a beneficial move towards herd immunity and containing the spread.
While scientists are unsure about the duration of immunity protection from antibodies in people who have tested positive, they are definitive about how much immunity vaccines provide, which they recommend to everyone 16 years and above. All Californians can sign up at myturn.ca.gov or call (833) 422-4255 to determine when they will receive their vaccine. Currently, healthcare workers, people 65 years and above, and some essential workers are receiving vaccines. Beginning March 15, healthcare providers will determine which extremely high-risk individuals ages 16 to 64 can start receiving the vaccine. Keep an eye out for new vaccine rollout updates at https://covid19.ca.gov/vaccines/#California’s-vaccination-plan!