Vaccines To Combat The Covid-19 Pandemic: Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy
In modern medical history, what is about to happen is unprecedented: Multiple new COVID-19 vaccines with different approaches are in various stages of development, with several already receiving emergency use authorization in the US and the UK. Immunizations to combat the coronavirus pandemic have already begun in the US with the Pfizer/BioNTec and Moderna vaccines and in Great Britain with the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine. India and Russia are beginning immunizations with vaccines they have developed in their own countries. Additional vaccines are in various stages of human trials and may well be hitting the markets in the coming months.
It is a colossal medical achievement, but there’s more hard work ahead. Once vaccines are distributed across the globe, people then have to agree to take them.
Surveys done during mid-2020 show that Social Media misinformation poses a growing threat to coronavirus vaccine efforts. One survey showed that one in six Britons said they will refuse to get a vaccine when it becomes available, and an even higher portion of US respondents say the same. The survey found that this attitude is more prevalent among those who get their news from social media as opposed to people who rely on more traditional forms of media for their news and information about the pandemic.
The survey found differences between those who get the majority of their news from social media and those who rely on more traditional forms of media. People who depend on traditional media were nine percentage points more likely to say they would “definitely” or “probably” get the vaccine. The survey was commissioned by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a London-based nonprofit that studies the use of hate and misinformation to polarize society and undermine democracy.
The survey argues that Big Tech “powers an anti-vaxx ecosystem” and that the anti-vaccination movement is a “growing threat to the coronavirus vaccine.” Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, the 150 largest anti-vaccination social media pages and YouTube channels tracked by the CCDH have collected about 8 million more followers. The majority of the followers are on Facebook, despite the social media platform’s official stance opposing anti-vaccination content.
What Can The Pharmacy Community Do To Combat Vaccine Hesitancy?
Pharmacists are key educators about vaccines and vaccine safety in the community. Since the COVID-19 vaccines are new, pharmacists should take time to learn the facts about the development of the vaccines and be prepared to answer questions about what to expect.
As health care providers, we understand the importance of getting a vaccine, but it’s important to be engaged in the conversation and listen. Be aware of tone and conscious of nonverbal signals so that the patient feels comfortable discussing vaccination.
Be up front with patients about what to expect from vaccines. If side effects like injection site pain or body aches are common, it’s important to be honest with patients in order to maintain trust.
Share personal stories and experiences – have someone take a picture of you getting a vaccine and share this with patients who may be hesitant about getting vaccinated. If you’re comfortable sharing pictures of your family receiving a vaccine as well, this can be a powerful visual aid to help increase confidence in immunizations.
Use open-ended questions to learn important information from the patient.
“How important do you think it is to be protected from Covid-19 that the vaccine is designed to prevent?”
“How confident are you that vaccines are safe?”
“What have you heard about vaccines potentially posing a threat to your health?”
If the patient decides not to be vaccinated, look for respectful ways to keep the dialogue going. Hesitant patients and caregivers will not want to change their decision if their health care provider minimizes their concerns instead of taking the time to truly address them, so it is critical that pharmacists and other healthcare professionals show their patients that their concerns are heard and valid.
Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy in Racial or Ethnic Minority Populations
Increasing evidence shows that some racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately
affected by COVID-19. The CDC recently found that from late January to early October 2020, the United States had 299,000 more deaths than the typical number during the same period in previous years.
At least two out of three excess deaths were from COVID-19, and the largest percentage of increase was found among Hispanic or Latino people and adults aged 25–44.
Pew Research Center found that the people who are most hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are African Americans. Behind the Black community’s wariness of the COVID-19 vaccine is the lingering legacy of the Tuskegee Study of the 1930s, in which participants were intentionally misled about the study’s purpose and were denied the facts required to provide true informed consent.
The speed at which the COVID-19 vaccine development process—“Operation Warp Speed”—is taking place has triggered fear and suspicion about the safety of the vaccines, especially among Black Americans.
African American communities have been disproportionately hard-hit by the virus. Their hesitancy is a hurdle the pharmacy and medical professions must acknowledge and overcome by earning trust.
The National Medical Association (NMA) is the largest and oldest national organization representing African American physicians and their patients. The organization has convened a panel of seven Black doctors to vet the federal review of companies’ vaccines. The panel will include Lakesha Butler, PharmD, a clinical professor and director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). The NMA COVID-19 Commission on Vaccines and Therapeutics will evaluate vaccines currently in clinical trials for safety and efficacy and will also evaluate clinical trial processes.
Its aim is to ease minority communities’ misgivings. “Research proves that racial concordance between physician and patient results in greater health outcomes due to improved trust,” Butler told SIUE News. If providers are confident in the vaccine’s safety, their patients are more likely to as well.