This oped was originally published on Media Planet Vaccine Awareness Campaign on 22 December 2020
Vaccines are one of the most cost effective interventions we have to safeguard public health and yet during this pandemic we have seen a decrease in public confidence. The latest World Economic Forum/Ipsos survey found that the number of people willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine has dropped to 73% from 77%. This is a major concern as we cannot achieve a global herd immunity if too many people opt-out of receiving the vaccine due to mistrust. COVID-19 anywhere remains a threat everywhere and so a global concerted effort is a prerequisite to overcoming the pandemic.
The survey highlighted the biggest vaccine confidence concerns among responders were around side effects and fears that clinical trials were moving too fast. Responding to the concerns underscores the importance of trusted voices to explain how vaccines work, how the clinical trials for COVID vaccines are just as thorough than for other vaccines, and how regulatory agencies must and are scrutinising all the data and where possible sharing them widely.
Since the start of the pandemic, vaccine makers have voiced their strong commitment to rigorous scientific and regulatory standards for approval of COVID-19 vaccines and have committed to publish all the clinical trials in peer reviewed publications, publishing details to an extent like never before; whether they are good or bad. By doing this, we hope to address concerns of people who are vaccine hesitant. It is to nobody’s advantage that either vaccine manufacturers, or regulators for that matter cut corners. It will only serve to undermine the unprecedented efforts of all involved.
COVID-19 has made us realize the critical role that healthcare professionals (HCPs) play to tackle the global pandemic, but also to continue to provide essential health services. They are the backbone of any health systems and without them, hospitals, primary care centres and outpatient facilities would come to a grinding halt. It will be paramount that HCPs feel confident about COVID-19 vaccines, first as individuals, but also because HCPs are usually the first port of call for people either receiving or enquiring about vaccines. They are a pillar in their communities and a trusted platform to quell fears or worries patients may have surrounding the vaccine.
Controlling this pandemic is ultimately about vaccinations, not vaccines, and we need to start planning vaccination campaigns now. When COVID-19 vaccines will start to be deployed, we must respect that some people might be anxious about getting them, and it will be important that we can answer all their concerns and demonstrate that safety and effectiveness has never been compromised. As countries take on the huge task of rolling out immunization programs, HCP will be called upon again. We thank them, we applaud them; and we want to support them in helping answer those questions that we can. Vaccine makers and the biopharmaceutical industry as a whole, will be on the front foot, explaining how vaccines are produced, distributed, and monitored. It is in all of our best interest.