Why Scientists and Public Well being Officers Must Deal with Vaccine Distrust As a substitute of Dismissing It
By Sterling M. McPherson, Washington State University; Erica Weintraub Austin, Washington State University, and Porismita Borah, Washington State University
Recent polls show that more than a third of the country has concerns about a vaccine that in all likelihood will be the only reliable way to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
These results reflect similar public opinion in the United States in the 1950s when a polio vaccine was introduced. There are likely several reasons for this suspicion, including safety concerns, a lack of transparency from the scientific community, a lack of trust in the government, and a desire to wait until a longer safety record can be established.
We are experts in media literacy, health and political communication, and biostatistics and biomedical research for future health care providers from the Edward R. Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion Research at Washington State University and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. We also live in the communities that we want to serve with our science.
Based on our research, we believe officials need to use this testing period to build trust, not to create reasons for a decrease in trust. Respect and openness can change the tone from controversial to collaborative and from a vendor-led practice to a shared decision-making process. Scientists and public health officials must anticipate and address people’s concerns, and not put concerns aside. This process has become commonplace in other areas of the provider-patient relationship, but vaccination decisions remain a notable exception.
Vaccines and Complications
Vaccines are some of the safest and most transformative drugs in the world. The adverse events are so minor that near universal vaccination is a reasonable expectation. With such a safety record and such a high risk for diseases like COVID-19, measles, and influenza, vaccine advocates have good reason to stress the largely positive safety record.
There have been a few vaccines in history of questionable quality, as well as more worrisome methods of vaccination. Certain minority groups were attacked with tremendous force. This included cases of forced smallpox vaccination of African Americans at gunpoint in the southern United States in the early 1900s. In 1901, at a tenement in Manhattan’s Little Italy, essentially over 200 men vaccinated smallpox in the middle of the night in order to vaccinate as many people as possible.
When the miracle polio vaccine became widespread in 1955, speed took precedence over safety, and many doses containing live polio virus were distributed. As a result, 70,000 children developed muscle weakness, 164 were permanently paralyzed, and 10 children died. This resulted in direct government intervention that resulted in thousands of tests required to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Instances like these undoubtedly fuel people’s worries. Such events should give us all a break, scientist or not, to do better next time and to strive never to repeat such remarkable grievances.
Why can’t vaccines recover from mistakes?
As medical and public health researchers, we found it interesting that companies that were negligent and dishonest recovered without permanently damaging their reputations. For example, Volkswagen was caught in 2014 for lying to the public about their emissions. By 2019, the company had broken its 2014 prescandal sales record.
We accept these occasionally fatal flaws and ethical missteps because cars are essential to our lives. The documented safety record of vaccines is staggering, much like the impressive safety record most cars have on the road today.
Why are vaccines subject to special testing? Have scientists and healthcare providers been practicing scientific snobbery by assuming that people should do what we advise, without questions or decision-making processes? Can scientists and healthcare providers better communicate the good and positive (and bad) background of vaccines? Has social media raised doubts about an authority that can be perceived as cocky? Personal health care choices have a profound impact on our children and families. So let’s take this opportunity and take this golden opportunity to reshape the conversation about vaccines.
Embrace joint decisions
The existence of a little known but critical government office recognizes both past problems with some vaccines and a method of recourse for those injured by vaccines. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, launched in the 1980s, is a powerful transparency and accountability tool designed to help shape this important, shared decision-making process. For example, over 3.7 billion doses of covered vaccines were distributed in the US between 2006 and 2018. In the same period 5,233 petitions submitted to this office were compensated out of a total of 7,482 petitions. This means that for every 1 million doses of vaccine distributed, one person received compensation.
Instead of addressing the concerns of parents and others worried about safety, experts should listen. When speaking, they should explain safety issues and use metaphors such as vehicle safety and other medical breakthroughs (e.g., insulin, heart valve surgery) that are so often used to work together towards the same goal as a country and as a health care provider and Patient.
Experts should recognize that the practice of medicine and public health research is a relatively new area of science to public health, the advancement of medical practice and politics when compared to other, far more established scientific disciplines such as physics or Advancing Chemistry. Building public support requires more than citing solid evidence from peer-reviewed scientific literature. Confidence in setbacks in vaccine development that the current administration is on the verge of repeating itself – and then making the necessary repairs to get back on track, as automakers are doing – also creates confidence. AstraZeneca’s public announcement of a serious adverse event in one of their studies that caused participant registration to be disrupted was a good first step.
Let’s start by realizing that all parties want to achieve the same ultimate goal of a healthy and safe return to everyday life. Despite the explosion of misinformation about COVID-19, a clear, consistent, and respectful approach can reset the vaccine talk.
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Next we want to acknowledge that vaccines are not now and were not 100% perfect (nor any drugs or cars). We should also note that the same science that makes vaccines is also making countless breakthroughs in fields like cardiology and oncology, along with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, which relieve minor ailments but also have limitations and warnings.
Finally, invite skeptics for a conversation and acknowledge beforehand that, as with any other scientific advancement of things that work now, there was a time when they didn’t work as well or not at all.
Sterling M. McPherson, Associate Professor, Director, and Assistant Dean of Research, Washington State University; Erica Weintraub Austin, Professor and Director, Edward R. Murrow Center for Media and Health Promotion Research, Washington State University; and Porismita Borah, Associate Professor, Health Communications, Washington State University
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