John Miller & Kate Kelland
With COVID-19 vaccine trial results looking positive, governments and pharmaceutical firms face their next daunting challenge: convincing the world to get inoculated. Public resistance to vaccines has been much discussed this year, but the issue became very real on Monday when Pfizer and BioNTech announced their candidate was more than 90 per cent effective in large trials — hoisting an actual shot onto the horizon.
Numerous opinion polls carried out before and during the pandemic showed confidence is volatile, and that political polarization and online misinformation threatens uptake. Many people have concerns about the accelerated speed of COVID-19 vaccine development.
The World Health Organization estimates about 70 per cent of people must be inoculated to break transmission of the virus. Since it is unlikely a vaccine, once approved, will be immediately available for the masses, experts said getting medical workers on board will be critical.
“We should have really targeted discussions and engagement with healthcare providers’’, Heidi Larson, Director of the global Vaccine Confidence Project, said. “Not only are they going to be the first ones expected to get a vaccine — if not required to — they’re also going to be the ones on the frontlines facing the onslaught of questions from the public.”
While about 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development globally, with dozens in human clinical trials, no shot has actually crossed the finish line and been approved, though the one from Pfizer-BioNTech appears to be on track.
The high rate of efficacy in the Pfizer-BioNTech interim results could help boost confidence, Cornell University government Professors Douglas Kriner and Sarah Kreps said. Their recently published research showed that if an initial COVID-19 vaccine was about as effective as a flu shot, uptake by the American public may fall far short of the 70 per cent level needed to achieve “herd immunity”.
“However, if the vaccine was 90 per cent effective it would significantly increase Americans’ willingness to vaccinate by more than 10 per cent, critical to ensuring enough public acceptance to help the US eventually get closer to herd immunity’’, said Kreps.
Experts are also cautioning any conversation over a vaccine’s risks and rewards must be frank. A return to normal life will still take time, with no one shot likely to be a silver bullet. And many questions are likely to remain, including how long a vaccine will provide protection.
The Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA, a non-profit that supports the US Food and Drug Administration, has been holding focus groups to gauge the public mood and is now crafting campaign messages to help tackle concerns.
John Miller & Kate Kelland