Enough With the Hand Wringing Over Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy
Overdramatizing hesitancy can actually reduce confidence for others
For the past several months, headlines have announced one survey after another about how many Americans say they will or won’t get the Covid-19 vaccine — which doesn’t actually exist yet. The implication, voiced in June by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is that vaccine hesitancy will be a major obstacle to fighting Covid-19 once a vaccine is available because not enough people will be willing to get it to create herd immunity.
But there are problems with this popular narrative. For one thing, vaccine hesitancy isn’t actually likely to be a major problem with the yet-to-be vaccine—at least not yet. It’s possible hesitancy about a Covid-19 vaccine could become an issue later on as the vaccine becomes more widely available and recommended, but there are too many other more urgent logistical issues that take priority right now.
Besides, it’s entirely reasonable for people to be skeptical about a new vaccine. In fact, concern about a potential Covid-19 vaccine is healthy, particularly given the speed of its development, and is shared by many scientists and public health experts. Even vaccine researchers cannot say right now that they will definitely get whatever Covid-19 vaccine is developed.
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“People should be skeptical about anything they put into their bodies, especially a vaccine that’s being developed faster than any vaccine in history and that has language surrounding it that’s a little scary, like ‘warp speed’ and ‘race for a vaccine,’” says Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an infectious disease pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who co-developed the rotavirus vaccine. “People wonder whether timelines are being unreasonably compressed, the trial phases are being skipped, that safety guidelines are being ignored — those are understandable questions.”