It’s easy to imagine resistance to a future COVID-19 vaccine, agreed Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“When the first vaccine is released, we will have safety data from clinical trials,” said Offit, who was not involved in the new report. “But we won’t have data on enough people to detect rare side effects.”
Beyond that, most people infected with SARS-CoV-2 do not get seriously ill. Thus, younger, healthy people may decide that their personal benefit from vaccination is worth no unknown risk.
But vaccination isn’t just about you, said Offit and Schoch-Spana. It is about creating “collective immunity” which protects the most vulnerable people in a community.
To “stop the spread of this disease and reclaim our lives,” said Offit, most of the population will need to be vaccinated.
He said it will be essential to communicate clearly about the efficacy and safety of any vaccine – and its allocation.
No COVID-19 vaccine will be immediately available to everyone. Planners from the United States government and the World Health Organization have started to discuss the “strategic” allocation. Vaccination would likely be opened first to health care workers, then to other essential workers and those at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19, including the elderly and those with certain medical conditions.
“It will be very important that the allocation is fair and that this is recognized by the public,” said Schoch-Spana.
Reaching out to minorities, especially black Americans, will be crucial. They have not only been hit hard by the virus, said Schoch-Spana, but they have long faced institutional racism in the health care system.
Thus, messages should come not only from national agencies, but from local health authorities and community groups, as recommended by Hopkins.
Schoch-Spana said this type of collaboration is underway with coronavirus testing: “Non-traditional partners”, such as black churches, have helped reach people.
And any allocation plan, according to the Hopkins report, must consider more than the priority groups. The vaccine should also be available for free and accessible in convenient and familiar places – such as the local pharmacy.
“Sometimes people’s decisions [about vaccination] comes down to, is it practical enough to fit into my life? “said Schoch-Spana.
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