As I write this, COVID-19 continues to surge across the globe and cases are approaching 145 million, with more than 3 million deaths. The only way we can get through the pandemic and begin to gain some sense of normalcy in our lives is through vaccinations (with the support of masks and social distancing). Currently, there are twin threats to achieving that goal on a global scale. In much of the world, there is a lack of supply; the vaccines are just not yet available. In some parts of the world, there is a declining demand for vaccines, much of which is due to vaccine hesitancy.
In the US, we have been fortunate that some 45% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, still a long way from providing herd immunity. Around the world, the need to vaccinate is encountering a significant pushback of vaccine hesitancy. The hesitancy seems to stem from several concerns: a reluctance to be among the first, since the vaccine is new and long-term reactions are unknown; safety concerns due to the rapid pace of its development; misinformation about the vaccine; distrust of the government or a legacy of colonialism; and a shameful history of medical trials and treatments that targeted people of color.
Recent studies have shown that the vaccine-hesitant often feel more comfortable speaking with their own health care provider, to share their concerns and assess their risks. Those who are hesitant are not necessarily “anti-vaxxers;” they may just need more information and reassurance that the vaccine is safe for them. As more people are vaccinated, others will begin to feel more comfortable in getting the shot, and the expectation of being vaccinated will become more routine.
I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to gently encourage their patients, colleagues, and friends to get vaccinated. If concerns and fears are raised, listen and respond to those concerns. We all need to recognize that this is not a political issue, but a public health one. Until, across the globe, we are all vaccinated, we are all at risk, particularly since the virus and its variants are determined and stealthy.
The CDC has developed a communications toolkit to share information on the vaccine with other health care providers, which can be found here.
Working together and building global trust, we can get through this. Please stay safe.
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