KSL Investigates: Will the hope of a COVID-19 vaccine be derailed by mistrust?
SALT LAKE CITY – Scientists around the world are working on a vaccine to fight COVID-19, hoping to get us out of this pandemic.
Doctors believe it will save lives. But when it’s finally created, will you take the vaccine?
There is a growing concern that not enough people will get the shot. To give you a little context, the Department of Health and Human Services reports less than 45% of adults get the recommended flu vaccine each year. That number would need to be much higher to stop the worldwide pandemic.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, it has been a numbers game: The number infected, the number of deaths, the number hospitalized, the number of masks, the numbers on Wall Street and the number of lost jobs.
And how about the number of months waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, potentially protecting millions around the world.
“Yeah, that’s the loaded million-dollar question,” said Dr. Todd Vento, a physician with Intermountain Healthcare specializing in infectious diseases.
Similar comments from Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatrics and also an infectious diseases specialist with University of Utah Health.
“The best minds in the world in science are working on it,” he said.
It can take more than a decade to develop a vaccine. Even fast-tracked, it could be 12-to-18 months before we see a working vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
Two doctors. Both specializing in infectious diseases.
Both made it clear, this future vaccine will not save lives — people taking the vaccine will.
“That’s why we have children receive so many vaccines from the time they’re born, even into teenage years,” Vento said. “Because they work.”
“Our only acceptable tool in the long run is to develop effective vaccines,” Pavia added.
The World Health Organization backs up those statements, testifying vaccines have been one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine. The WHO estimates at least 10 million deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2015, because of vaccinations around the world.
Pavia said the novel coronavirus is no different. Vaccination is key.
“There’s a real danger that anti-vaxxers pose by creating a false narrative of danger around vaccine,” he said.
Fast Track Fears
“A vaccine for it? No. No, I wouldn’t,” said Kristen Chevrier. “I would not use a coronavirus vaccine.”
Chevrier is co-founder of a group based out of Utah County called “Your Health Freedom,” and if you label her an anti-vaxxer, she said there’s a misconception.
“Most people who are anti-vaxxers are ex-vaxxers,” she said. “When you call someone an anti-vaxxer, you have no idea what their history is.”
Chevrier said the reason her group was created is to educate people in making informed health decisions. Some of those informed health decisions focus on vaccines.
“There has never been a safe or effective vaccine for a coronavirus,” she said. “The last one they tried didn’t work out very well.”
Chevrier was referring to the outbreaks of SARS and MERS. In both cases, the research on vaccines ended after the epidemics fizzled out.
And she’s not wrong. Research showed animal trials for a SARS vaccine were plagued by a phenomenon known as “vaccine-induced enhancement.”
Simply put, the mice showed even worse symptoms after being injected.
Chevrier feared fast-tracking a new vaccine could be unsafe, and she certainly doesn’t believe people should be pressured into getting the shot.
“We feel like everybody deserves to make that choice because you will live with the consequences,” Chevrier said. “Nobody else is going to live with the consequences.”
Most in the medical field will say that statement is simply not true.
Decades of scientific studies and research have proven and continue to prove, vaccinations protect the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.
It’s called herd immunity.
When most of the population is immune to an infectious disease, it provides indirect protection to those who are not immune to the disease.
“The decision to not to get vaccinated for highly communicable disease affects not only the person making the choice but others around them,” said Pavia. “As a community, we depend on a high level of vaccine coverage to protect everyone. There are people who cannot get a vaccine or do not respond, and when there are a large number of unvaccinated people in the community, an infectious disease can spread and impact them.”
Pavia said we see this every time there’s a measles outbreak. Those who bear the worst impact are infants and people with cancer.
In order to wipe out COVID-19 in the United States, he said 80% of the population needs immunity.
Pavia believed the safest way to get there with the least number of casualties is vaccination.
“You have to also admit that a very safe vaccine will still have very rare side effects that we have to be honest about and admit,” said Pavia. “But with all vaccines, the question is what’s worse? A disease that kills one out of a hundred people, or a side effect that happens in one out of 10 million? The answer is pretty obvious.”
Herd Immunity: Part 2
“Let’s talk for a minute about herd immunity,” said Scott Bradley. “Herd immunity is a naturally occurring event.”
Bradley represents the group “Defending Utah.”
Their website defines them as “an organization working to expose those conspiring to take away your freedom and educate citizens on the principles of liberty.”
Bradley believes herd immunity should not be forced through vaccinations. He said the world can achieve that goal naturally, letting the at-risk population self-quarantine if they so choose and letting the immune systems of the healthy protect the rest.
“Herd immunity with this virus and everything else that comes along will happen naturally through just the events we bump into every day of our lives,” he said.
“God gave us an immune system,” said Bradley. “It needs practice and it does what it does best when it’s out and about existing in the mortal world we’ve been given.”
The Trust Factor
Bradley’s opinion is one medical experts believe would overwhelm hospitals.
An opinion history shows would claim an unnecessary number of lives and an opinion the families of nearly 175,000 now dead from COVID-19 may disagree with.
“The more we have people unwilling to trust vaccines, unwilling to get them, the longer it will take to really control the disease,” said Pavia.
And as the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise, the race for a vaccine moves forward.
When will it safely be completed?
Well, that’s the big question.
But maybe the bigger question, is how many people will get vaccinated? An Emerson College Poll conducted last month shows a majority of Americans (66%) said that if there was a vaccine for coronavirus, they would take it. Another 11% said they would refrain from taking a vaccine, while 23% were still unsure.
“In my opinion, it would not make sense to not use it,” Vento said.
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