- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Infectious disease experts are eyeing the next battle once a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed in the U.S.: how to get Americans to take it.

One out of 3 Americans would not take a free, Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine if it were available today, according to a poll released last week from Gallup. Hesitancy abounds among Republicans (47%) and rural Americans (44%) who say they would not take a vaccine.

A recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey found that only half of Americans would take a vaccine.

Still, health officials point to a coronavirus vaccine and subsequent “herd immunity” as the linchpin for fully reopening the economy and schools.

Winning over the skeptical minds of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and pandemic skeptics will be a tall task for public health officials.

“When I was 7 years old and was none-too-happy about getting a [polio vaccine] shot, I remember what my mother said: ‘Better you should cry than I should cry,’” Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, former director of the U.S. Immunization Program, told The Washington Times.

A group of scientists, led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Texas State University, in July called for measures to reduce vaccination skepticism. They said the federal government’s $10 billion vaccine development effort must be accompanied by an information campaign to address what the World Health Organization has called an “infodemic” of falsehoods about COVID-19 and potential vaccinations.

“Given the history of vaccine misinformation, an overpopulated information landscape, and the trend of social media communication during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that public health communicators will face a difficult communication landscape when it comes time to share messaging for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign,” wrote the study’s lead authors — Johns Hopkins senior scholar Monica Schoch-Spana and Texas State anthropology professor Emily K. Brunson.

According to a poll in July from Pew Research Center, 25% of Americans believe there is “some truth” to the falsity that the COVID-19 pandemic was orchestrated, with nearly half of Americans without a high school diploma believing so.

Meanwhile, so-called anti-vaxxers have long opposed vaccinations, with many citing debunked studies linking childhood immunizations to autism. So many U.S. children have not been vaccinated for measles that the viral disease made a comeback last year after having been eliminated in 2000.

Conspiracy theorists have conjectured that tracking devices will be secretly included in vaccinations — a notion that philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation is developing a vaccine, has repeatedly dismissed.

Health experts worry that fears have spread among some Americans who suspect the Trump administration of too aggressively pushing for a cure with its Project Warp Speed, which aims to deliver 300 million doses of a vaccine with at least 50% effectiveness by January 2021.

“It [Project Warp Speed] initially sounded like a good name but has turned out to backfire in that some people are thinking that corners will be cut,” said Dr. Orenstein. “It’s very important not to cut corners and to ensure whatever vaccine or vaccines are rolled out will meet FDA approbate criteria for safety and effectiveness.”

Some suspicion has deep roots. Many public health officials point to higher-than-average hesitancy about vaccinations among Black Americans due to the U.S. Public Health Service’s infamous Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis in 600 Black men from the 1930s to the 1970s.

In addition, when Gallup first asked Americans about polio vaccinations in 1954, 31% said they would not take it. (The U.S. has been polio-free since 1979, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Mayo Clinic, health experts believe 70% of the U.S. public would need to be immune from COVID-19 to stop the pandemic.

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