A vaccine is supposed to mean victory. At least, that’s how I have been thinking about it. It didn’t occur to me until this week that half of all Americans might not be willing to receive the medicine. That’s a pretty bitter pill.
It’s especially bitter because the recent news about vaccine development has been relatively positive. For the first time since the pandemic began, it seems like multiple vaccines could be ready by the end of the year. Scientists at Oxford have already involved about 1,000 people in tests of a vaccine that appears to successfully create antibodies and boost T-Cell responses without severe side effects. What’s more, the drug manufacturer AstraZeneca has already begun production of the vaccine so that it can be distributed widely as soon as it’s proved to be safe and effective. Meanwhile, the United States has already signed a contract securing 100 million doses by the end of the year of a vaccine being developed by Pfizer and a German biotech firm, according to the NY Times.
The problem is that every other American might not get the shot. This was the discussion of the July 21 episode of The Daily. Listening, I found myself just as surprised as the host, Michael Barbaro. Of course, I’m familiar with the anti-vacc movement that has contributed to the worldwide surge of measles cases, despite having an inoculation that’s 97% effective at preventing the disease, according to the CDC. Still, I assumed the movement was something that existed on the edges of our society. Turns out, it’s more widespread than you might think, joining groups such as government skeptics with people who only want “natural” ingredients entering their children’s bodies.
And, apparently, opposition to a Covid-19 vaccine goes beyond the traditional anti-vaccers. People are, perhaps rightly, wary of the “warp speed” at which these inoculations are being developed. People are worried that corners are being cut, safety measures ignored for expediency. Many say they won’t take a vaccine authorized by the Trump administration, because they don’t trust his ability to get it right, especially when he has already demonstrated his willingness to put his own re-election self-interests above public health. Clearly, concerns about the vaccine are valid. Still, a vaccine is necessary.
A critical argument in favor of immunization is that it helps the public good. If fewer people get sick then there are fewer transmissions and thus fewer cases. Hospitals will be able to cope with the inevitable coronavirus patients that will still fill their beds, the way hospitals see severe flu cases every year.
It’s a losing argument. Look no further than masks. Putting a piece of cloth on your face isn’t painful or dangerous, and it’s proven to limit the spread of the disease. Yet we as a country have been far too reluctant to widely adopt the practice. We simply don’t care enough about each other.
That’s why the argument that public health officials must make when selling a vaccine has to be about individuals helping themselves. Forget saving lives—all the messaging should be about saving your own life. That’s the only campaign that will motivate enough people to get vaccinated and give us a chance at herd immunity. It’s sad, but that’s where we are. So please blitz the airwaves with vaccine recipients saying they experienced no side effects and now can get their hair cut or go to the office without fear of getting sick.
I understand that this is terribly risky, because if the early vaccines somehow turn out to be ineffective or even harmful, the already eroded trust in public health could crumble entirely. The anti-vaccine movement could swell dangerously. But what’s the alternative? Be handed a magic bullet and refuse to use it? We really could end up being our own worst enemies, but maybe that’s exactly what we should expect in this country. I mean, weren’t some of Obamacare’s biggest critics the same people who were benefiting most from the law?
Ever since Trump announced the Warp Speed project I’ve been thinking about Facebook’s slogan: “move fast and break things.” The mantra is often mocked and held up as an example of everything that’s wrong with the technological world. I agree. I’ve made my antipathy to social media very clear in previous posts. My biggest fear is that moving fast and breaking things has already ruined us. But it’s created the world we live in now, so what choice do we have? –Andrew Waite