Will anyone take the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s approved?

Finally, 2020 has offered some encouraging news, with Pfizer and Moderna publishing recent results that provide initial evidence of their vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19. With the recent promising results from both vaccine trials, it seems like only a matter of time before the FDA approves them. While some hurdles remain before the vaccine’s distribution and availability to the general public, this news is a welcomed relief for many. However, there is one question that continues to trouble me. Once the vaccine is available, will people be willing to get vaccinated?

This is an important question, with many people citing civil liberty violations related to social distancing and mask-wearing. There remains significant distrust among many people of large corporations, science, and medicine. It’s difficult to keep up with the vast array of conspiracy theories surrounding the origin of COVID-19, and now we will ask people to accept a vaccine voluntarily. I have already had several patients express concern about the vaccine, with one gentleman informing me that a tracking device was implanted when the vaccine is administered. While I have not heard about tracking devices from my colleagues, I have heard some apprehension. Many are citing insufficient clinical studies and a lack of long-term data to support their skepticism. As frontline health care workers, they are aware that we will likely be the first people to receive this vaccination. While the data and safety results look promising, there is always some anxiety knowing you will be the first to receive the new vaccine on a mass scale.

One of the keys for any vaccine to be effective is the willingness of enough people in the community to get it. In recent years there has been an increasing number of individuals who refuse to get potentially life-saving vaccinations. This has resulted in multiple outbreaks of previously rare diseases such as measles. We know that misinformation is a major problem in these cases and likely contributed to these diseases’ reemergence. Will misinformation and fear also disrupt the COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan? I think time will answer this question.

As physicians, we have a duty to educate our patients about all treatment options’ risks and benefits. This means we need to remain up to date on the latest information regarding the vaccine trials and convey the information to our patients in clear, understandable terms. We also must dispel any information that is factually inaccurate while preserving patient autonomy. It’s going to be a difficult task, and I fear this new normal may persist despite the vaccine.

Garrett Rossi is a psychiatry resident who blogs at Shrinks in Sneakers.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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