For months now multiple companies have been feverishly working to complete huge studies with their Covid-19 vaccines as governments around the world are desperate to protect their citizens and get their respective economies open again. These studies are going well enough that it is entirely likely that one or more vaccines will be available by early next year. But beyond proving the safety and efficacy of their vaccines, there is a different – and bigger – problem.
People don’t seem to want to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey showed that only 20% would take a vaccine as soon as it is available with 50% saying that they would wait to see if any problems arose over time. A STAT/Harris Poll was more optimistic with 58% saying that they’d get vaccinated as soon as possible, although this is down 11% since the August poll. And, before you think that this is only a U.S. phenomenon, a World Economic Forum/Ipsos survey of 20,000 people indicated that more than a quarter of respondents said that they would not get a Covid-19 vaccine at all. For a vaccine to have its intended effect, the majority of a population needs to be immunized – not just 40 – 50%.
Simply hoping that, once a vaccine is available, people will have a change of heart will never happen. Active measures are going to be needed if we are to overcome Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy. However, there are steps that can be taken. First, let’s get a variety of well-known people publicly supporting getting vaccinated. There is precedent for this. In the 1950s, polio was infecting more than 60,000 children annually with 3,000 of these children dying and thousands more permanently injured.Things were different then. Once the Salk vaccine was available, people lined up to get their children vaccinated. Polio was thought to be a disease of kids and so teens and adults opted out as they thought they were not at risk. However, the majority of people in a population need to be vaccinated for herd immunity to occur thereby maximizing effectiveness. To overcome this reluctance, public health officials recruited Elvis Presley, who agreed to get vaccinated live on the Ed Sullivan Show. This proved to be a brilliant move and within six months the vaccination rate for teens went from 0.6% to 80%. Perhaps today there isn’t one star with Elvis’ broad appeal, but there are certainly a number of figures in entertainment and sports that can lend their weight to a similar effort. These people should be lined up now for an Elvis-like happening once a vaccine is available in 2021.
For companies to be reopened it will be important for their workforce to get vaccinated. However, companies cannot force people to do this. Yet, they can make things easier for their colleagues and their families to get vaccinated by setting up centers at their workplaces where people can come and readily get vaccinated. After all, companies often run blood drives on their sites. While Covid-19 distribution will be more complicated that getting blood donations, it is doable. Here in Southeast Connecticut one could hope that Pfizer, which employs more than 3,000 people in the area, could set up shop on its campus to distribute its vaccine (or whichever one gets approved) to its colleagues, families or any neighbors who would want it. One would hope that all biopharmaceutical companies would do something similar. But this shouldn’t be restricted to drug companies. Any company involved in supplying the food chain could do this, as well as any large manufacturer that wants to protect its workforce.
What about college students whose sense of invincibility will make them reluctant to bother getting a vaccine? College administrators could offer vaccinations in large arenas on campus. Those who avail themselves of this opportunity could then get free tickets to a major campus event. Picture a big concert at the University of Michigan’s “Big House” with over 100,000 vaccinated students and friends finally being able to have fun again. This could happen across the country.
These are just a few thoughts and I am sure that others have more and better ideas. The importance is that we have to start planning this NOW. It makes no sense to get these vaccines but not have the majority of Americans take them. It is going to take a lot of work to make this happen. But this is the only way we are going to deal with this pandemic and end the lockdown.