What If Not Enough People Get the Covid-19 Vaccine?

Elemental Editors
Published in
2 min readDec 29, 2020

Photo: Daniel Schludi/Unsplash

To coincide with the U.S. vaccine rollout, Elemental has published an extremely thorough guide to Covid-19 vaccines, answering every question we could think of. Elemental will continue to update and add to this FAQ as the rollout and FDA authorization process continues. If you would like to submit a question, leave a response at the end of the story. Here’s a peek at one of the questions inside.

Q: What happens if too many people refuse to get the vaccine?

The ultimate goal in a nationwide — and global — vaccination campaign is to reach herd immunity, or community immunity, where those who cannot receive the vaccine are protected by the high level of immunity in everyone else. If too many people refuse to get the vaccine, we won’t reach herd immunity, and the disease will continue to spread through populations, though at a slower rate, [Devon] Greyson [PhD, assistant professor of communication at University of Massachusetts, Amherst] said. “The vaccine will not have the kind of community protection we want, and, in particular, vulnerable people in the community, people with immunodeficiencies who can’t mount a response to the vaccine even if they get it, will not be protected,” she said.

But that’s more of a long-term concern if it ends up being a concern at all. In the beginning, vaccine refusal is not the biggest concern. Figuring out the logistics for everyone who wants a vaccine and ensuring the vaccine is equitably distributed across populations are top priorities. Once everyone who wants a vaccine has gotten one, we can focus more specifically on those who still have questions or concerns about the vaccine.

“Internationally, I think, in the end, even if there are stragglers in the beginning with hesitancy, people will accept a safe and effective vaccine,” Greyson said. The HPV vaccine is a good example of one that had a lot of hesitancy at first but which has now been widely embraced as people saw how safe and effective it is.

The best way to head off that kind of resistance and hesitancy is to mount a nationwide, clear, transparent vaccine communication and education campaign, [Saad] Omer [PhD, MBBS, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, New Haven, Connecticut] argues. “Operation Warp Speed is $10 billion. The funding for promoting that is zero,” he said. “We need a promotion budget of the same magnitude of the campaign.”

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