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Trust in vaccine may improve

A Herculean effort by the science community has produced several vaccines for COVID-19 in record time.

With preliminary efficacy results around 95 percent, the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech are far more effective than anyone dared hope. AstraZeneca has also posted a promising early result. A dozen other teams around the world are reportedly closing in on vaccines.

Once approved, the drugs will be mass-produced and distributed. Making the treatment available to every person on Earth could be the largest production and mobilization effort in history.

Won’t the scientists, manufacturers and logistics experts be disappointed if half the world takes a pass on their work? A Gallup poll released earlier this month reported only 58 percent of Americans are willing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, up from 51 percent in September. After all the brainpower and effort, the difference may come down to jingle writers, social media influencers, network commentators, Russian trolls and preachers in the pulpits.

Gallup did its sampling prior to the recent positive news. In light of polling misses in this past election, it is fair to question the data’s veracity, but respondents who said they were wary of the vaccine included 37 percent who complained the process felt rushed. Another 26 percent wanted to wait to confirm the treatment was safe, 12 percent did not trust vaccines generally, 10 percent planned to see how effective it was and 15 percent had other reasons.

“That’ll change once they see all the doctors and nurses line up to get it,” says Dr. Norman Estin, founder and medical director of Doctors on Call Urgent Care Centers on Maui.

Societal pressure to be vaccinated will evolve in a variety of ways, Estin says. He sees a day when carrying a vaccine passport or digital proof of vaccination will be common.

“Eventually, you’re not going to be able to go into a ballgame or a theater or any public event without proof you have been vaccinated. Qantas Airlines already made the announcement and I’m sure other airlines are going to follow.”

The doctor says people should not be worried by reports that the vaccine causes a flu-like response.

“There are some side effects in terms of local soreness and people feeling they have a mild case of a virus,” Estin said. “That’s a good thing. It means you have a good immune response, it’s working.

“The thing the American people need to realize is they will still need to maintain protocols. It’s not a get out of jail free card in terms of behavior.”

Once vaccinated, it will still be possible to be infected, become an asymptomatic carrier and spread the disease. Mitigation efforts like wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding large groups will be with us until we reach herd immunity, hopefully as soon as the third or fourth quarter of 2021.

The end of the pandemic may be in sight or it may just be a mirage. It all balances on the public’s trust in science and government. Let’s hope those jingle writers know their stuff.

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