There have been exciting developments recently as coronavirus vaccines go through the final stages of emergency use authorization. Similarly, challenges that public health experts have long recognized are coming to light. There are operational and logistical concerns, such as how to keep the vaccines cold enough, and how to track and notify when someone is due for their second dose.
There are legal questions about whether employers can require the vaccine and how certain populations, such as those with cognitive impairment in nursing homes, can provide consent. But perhaps the largest hurdle will be overcoming public perception about vaccines.
The socio-political environment in the US has undermined the public’s confidence in rigorous medical testing and government oversight of vaccine development. There are concerns about the speed with which the vaccine was developed; the lack of data on long-term effects; and recent media coverage on side effects and adverse reactions.
In the Black community, fears are exacerbated by enduring mistrust of the healthcare system – originating from slave experimentation and unethical medical research such as the Tuskegee Syphilis study – and reinforced by discrimination by medical providers. Other experts note that a lack of information in languages other than English may also lead to distrust by certain groups, such as the Spanish-speaking Latino population.
It is important to remember that authorization decisions are made by panels of nonpartisan professionals, and that side effects are typically mild and temporary. For these vaccines to be truly effective in controlling COVID there needs to be herd immunity which will require as many people as possible to be vaccinated.
For the latest on vaccine authorization and distribution in Massachusetts, visit mass.gov/covidvaccine.