Last week, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved by the FDA for emergency use. Americans knew this day was going to come, but now that it's here, many are not sure how to react. Under Operation Warp Speed, the COVID-19 vaccine was developed and tested at an unprecedented pace, leaving many skeptical about it's safety. While national health experts such as Dr. Anthony Faucci has reassured the public about the diligence of all research and development, it's safe to say that many Americans are not convinced.
The anti-vaccine movement has only grown stronger in recent years. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) named vaccine hesitancy one of the top ten threats to global health. A growing vaccine hesitancy movement has contributed to decreasing vaccination rates in the US, especially among cloistered communities who are more vulnerable to misinformation campaigns.
However, skeptics of the COVID-19 vaccine aren't often an "anti-vaxxer," but just vaccine hesitant. What's the difference? The anti-vaxxer movement is largely misinformed by outdated studies that touted false claims about the side-effects of vaccines. The most well-known argument from this movement is that vaccines can cause autism, which has been extensively debunked since a bogus study linked the MMR vaccine to an autism diagnosis in 1998.
In this case, arguments against vaccines largely go against scientific evidence. With the vaccine-hesitant, however, are people who are reserved about being vaccinated, but are still open to being assured that the treatments are safe. According to a IPSOS Mori poll published earlier this year, only 53% of respondents said they were likely to take the vaccine. This means that many Americans are most likely hesitant towards a vaccine due to potential side effects that may result from the rushed development process.
Still, there are many strong science-backed arguments that reinforce the safety of the vaccine. For example, while it might appear that the vaccine was developed in record time, ongoing research behind mRNA vaccines have been studied for more than two decades. The recent application to the COVID-19 virus is the result of many years of testing and development.
Moreover, receiving the mRNA vaccine will not alter your DNA or genetic makeup in any way. There is a fear that vaccines can interfere with human genetics, when in reality, this is unfounded as the vaccine is not able to reach the area of your cell where DNA is stored. Similarly, the vaccine will not give you COVID-19 as there is no live virus used. If you do get any side effect like fever or chills, it's simply a sign that your body is generating an immune response to the virus.
Other distrust in the vaccine is tied to a larger distrust in big pharma companies among the general public. Big pharma is not exactly one to be trusted between controversies such as the legacy of Martin Shkreli and the infamous opioid crisis. However, nine organizations have signed a pledge to only seek approval for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. It's obvious that these companies are desperately vying to be first to market with a vaccine, but they're also under intense scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration.
As the first vaccines are rolled out across the country, only time will tell how effective they are and what the potential side-effects may be. Still, we need to remember that this virus didn't just come out of nowhere. It is the result of an intensive and rigorous testing and development process that is predicated on accountability and trust. While fostering trust is no easy feat, it is the only way we can survive this public health crisis.