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A Conversation on Vaccine Hesitancy in COVID-19 Times

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Significant efforts are underway to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the COVID-19 global pandemic. A critical factor of consideration is the potential impact that vaccine hesitancy could have on these efforts.

Technology Networks
spoke with Jeff Wolf, Heat Biologics CEO, to discuss what vaccine hesitancy is, why it must be considered, and what steps could be taken to help increase public knowledge and understanding of vaccines.

Molly Campbell (MC): In terms of vaccine development for COVID-19, there are so many different candidates being pursued and there is news emerging each day about progress with each individual candidate. To summarize, where exactly are we, right now, in pursuing a COVID-19 vaccine?

Jeff Wolf (JW):
Even with all of the approaches currently in development, the biotech industry is still likely at least a year away from both getting at least one vaccine approved for commercial use and manufacturing enough doses of that vaccine for clinical trials and retail. On Heat's end, we are working as aggressively as possible to progress our own COVID-19 vaccine to clinical trials. There are no shortcuts in producing a safe and effective vaccine, particularly because well-powered clinical trials require large numbers of subjects who take time to recruit and evaluate.

MC: What exactly is vaccine hesitancy?

According to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy describes individuals’ delay in opting to receive a vaccine or refusal of vaccines despite a vaccine’s availability. Even though it is almost always safer to get a vaccine than to opt out, people might decide not to get a vaccine for a number of reasons, including the belief that they are not susceptible to the disease that the vaccine protects against or that they will not get particularly ill if infected. Others may doubt the efficacy of vaccines entirely.

MC: Some individuals across the globe have expressed their desire not to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 should one become available. Why is this problematic?

As with any infectious disease that spreads readily, individuals’ obligations to get vaccinated against COVID-19 stem from needing to protect both themselves and others. COVID-19 does not affect all people uniformly: seniors and people with comorbidities like diabetes and obesity face much higher mortality rates than other groups do. It is then especially incumbent upon people who face less risk to make sure they get vaccinated, to avoid spreading the infection to the most vulnerable people around them.

MC: What steps must be taken to ensure that vaccine hesitancy does not impact our efforts to fight the disease?

Federal and local governments must educate the public through public-facing media campaigns across highly visible avenues like television, public transit and social media platforms, highlighting the risks associated with contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others as well as the importance of disease prevention.

Before at least one vaccine becomes commercially available, it will be important to inform people, in simple language, that everyone should make sure to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their communities. After at least one vaccine becomes available, messaging should also include where people can go in their area to get a vaccine and how to make an appointment.

Jeff Wolf was speaking to Molly Campbell, Science Writer, Technology Networks.