PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Cheryl Phillips considers herself a proponent of vaccines.
She gets the flu every year and says she will definitely get the COVID-19 vaccine if it becomes available. But, she said, probably not right away.
“[I’m] a little nervous about the COVID vaccine because it looks like it could rush to get something out as soon as possible, ”Phillips told Target 12 in an email. “I’m not sure about the first round.”
She is not alone.
Recently, the Associated Press and the Center for Public Research NORC released a poll showing that 31% of Americans were unsure whether they would be vaccinated against COVID-1
Concerns exist, although scientists around the world promise that the development process is safe, and politicians who believe that vaccines are the key to addressing many of the health, economic and social ills caused by the public health crisis.
“Please, please, don’t fall asleep with a sense of complacency,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in late June, when cases, hospitalizations and deaths fell in Rhode Island after intense months in April and May.
“By the way, this will happen… until we have a drug that works or a vaccine that is effective and accessible to all,” she added.
The vaccine debate is nothing new, as there are pockets around the world of people who oppose the drug for personal, religious and safety reasons – despite widespread acceptance in the scientific and health communities.
“I do not trust anyone [vaccine] it will be safe or effective without long-term safety studies and zero liability, ”said Deborah O’Leary, chairwoman of the RI Vaccine Alliance, an advocacy group that opposes mandatory vaccinations.
“It’s hard for me not to,” she added. “As long as I don’t stand in the way of anyone who wants to get one… I would certainly struggle with every effort to mandate this or any vaccine.”
But the poll, which showed half of Americans were concerned about coronavirus vaccines – which technically do not yet exist – outnumbered groups of people already vaccinated, and their numbers raised eyebrows among some public health experts who say they are developing and ultimately administer the vaccine will be key in the fight against COVID-19.
“The idea is really to save lives,” said Alicia Mihalakos, head of the RI Department of Emergency Preparedness and Response.
“From now on we will be in a completely different place.”
Public health officials say one way the disease can go away is if the population achieves “herd immunity,” a medical term that means many people are already infected with the disease, and continued spread is unlikely.
In June, the state released the results of an antibody test that showed that only 2.2% of the Rhode Island population showed signs of COVID-19 infection, meaning that the majority of residents would still have to get the disease. to achieve herd immunity.
The other option, Mihalakos explained, is to develop some kind of medicine, such as a vaccine or treatment.
“One of two things may have to happen for the coronavirus to disappear,” she said. “Either it will have to affect the whole population, or people will have to be protected against it in another way.”
Mihalakos joined the state health ministry just at the time of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, which was quickly followed by the anthrax attacks in 2001, and it focuses mainly on bioterrorism.
But she said the work has evolved over the years as threats to human life have changed and she has played an important role in planning efforts to spread the H1N1 vaccine – better known as swine flu – when it appeared in 2009. The disease in US centers According to Control and Prevention estimates, the new influenza strain then led to 61 million cases and 12,469 deaths in the United States.
As with the coronavirus, Mihalakos said there was much skepticism about the H1N1 vaccine, which ultimately did not spread widely, as the flu had largely faded by the time the drug became available.
Unlike H1N1, however, COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down, and Mihalakos’ health team has been preparing since the start of the pandemic for the possible release of coronavirus vaccines.
Convincing the public that they are safe is part of the process, she added.
“Vaccine indecision is something we are constantly turning to for all types of vaccines,” Michalakos said. “It’s about education, it’s about sharing with people facts we know and understand about vaccines.”
She pointed to two successful vaccines currently in use in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which – like current vaccine development efforts – were created in extraordinary circumstances and have since become instrumental in the fight against Ebola, a virus that causes severe and often fatal disease.
It will be months before any relocation can take place, as only a handful of potential vaccines have entered the final stages of the screening process and their ultimate success is not guaranteed.
However, the development of vaccines against COVID-19 took place in a record short time, which scientists explain is possible in part because there is already in-depth research to develop vaccines for other types of coronavirus, the family of viruses to which COVID-19 belongs to.
The work is funded by money, with the Trump administration alone investing $ 8 billion in vaccines through its program known as Operation Warp Speed.
Given the time between when the vaccine is ready, according to Dr. Ashish Ja, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health came. Ja said that a large proportion of the 51% of people who currently have concerns about coronavirus vaccines may be convinced otherwise.
“The way I look is 30% [of people] it’s probably pretty convincing and we don’t need to get everyone vaccinated, “he said during a recent discussion, hosting a university on COVID-19. “I also think that the dynamics of the disease will change completely, even after you have vaccinated 20% to 30% of the population and the spread of the virus will decrease dramatically.”
Ja said he was worried that communities with low immunizations were likely to see the disease continue to spread, but he was optimistic that a successful vaccine could change the story of the public health crisis in the future.
“America is a country with many mini-communities,” he said. “But as a nation, I think we will be in a completely different place in a year from now.”
Other vaccine challenges
Yet public health experts are still quick to warn people against thinking that vaccines are a silver bullet, no matter how often they are characterized, and say it is entirely possible that some drugs may be more effective than others.
It is also not clear how long a vaccine can provide protection, a time frame that varies from drug to drug. (People get the flu every year, but tetanus, for example, every 10 years.)
There are also logistical hurdles that will eventually materialize, such as having enough syringes and vials to potentially administer the billions of photos of people needed around the world. Michalakos said they were already buying such supplies and asked the federal government for guidance on which people would have priority to receive the vaccines first once one became available.
She said it was a “decent assumption” that efforts could reflect how the state prioritizes older adults, people with health conditions and those who worked in high-risk jobs when faced with a global shortage of test materials in March.
But much may depend on the data coming from vaccination attempts, as some drugs work better for certain groups of the population – especially when it comes to age.
“Until we have these guidelines, it’s hard for us to really plan what the vaccine will be,” she said.
A group of federal lawmakers, including Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III, wrote a letter to President Trump on Thursday asking for answers to his vaccination strategy, including how his administration plans to “distribute vaccines in hotspots and the most vulnerable communities.”
“We need to ensure that supply chains are in place and we can produce syringes, needles, vials and everything needed to provide vaccines to the public,” lawmakers wrote. “The delay in the spread of the vaccine should not again be linked to our inability to prepare.”
How quickly such a plan will be implemented is not clear, which will leave Americans to think more about the future of COVID-19 vaccines. But despite all hesitations, half of Americans still say they will receive a vaccine, a baseline that supporters like Ja expect only to grow in the coming months.
The group also includes people like Andrea Richo, a resident of Rhode Island. Her thinking has moved in the other direction, with the pandemic making her look at all vaccines more positively.
“I haven’t had the flu in years, but I will definitely get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and from now on I will get the flu,” Richo told Target 12 in an email. “I just want this to end.” It really was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through. “
Eli Sherman (email@example.com) is an investigative reporter for Target 12 for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Tim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the investigative reporter for Target 12 and hosts Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook