A recent study released by NPR provided some sobering facts about how delicate and critical these next few months are to getting us out of this pandemic.
According to the report, 49 percent of Republican men and 47 percent of Trump supporters have indicated they do not plan to receive the COVID vaccine, despite reports that former President Trump and former First Lady Melania were quietly vaccinated back in January. Forty percent of white men without college degrees have also said they do not plan on taking the vaccine. In addition, 10 percent of respondents who voted for Biden also said they don’t plan to get the shot.
Despite Dr. Fauci’s claim that receiving the vaccine is not a political issue, it is. The statistics above make that very clear.
So how do we make what appears to be a political issue… not a political issue? President Biden has suggested backing off statements from politicians and I couldn't agree more. In fact, a recent focus group indicated that not even Trump could be influential in convincing his supporters to receive the vaccine. The study cited that participants “did not have trust in politicians or anyone perceived as partisan.”
Instead, it has been suggested that vaccine advocates should be doctors and faith and community leaders. This makes sense, given that many of these folks are seen as guideposts for social issues and political advice from their followers. But there’s one more group that should be elevated during this process.
Over the past few years, science has been assaulted in ways never thought possible, and the pandemic only made matters worse. As Dr. Facui recently said in a panel discussion, “The [lesson] that I think is most cogent is that if ever you want to have a historic pandemic, don’t have it at a time when there’s intense divisiveness in society. If you are going to fight a pandemic, it’s got to be the entire country pulling together.”
If we are to reach herd immunity through vaccination, the buy-in of skeptics is required, and that includes a vast majority of those mentioned in the statistics above. Bringing to the table non-partisan groups, such as faith and community leaders and local doctors is a great start, but scientists need to be a part of the conversation as well. This will ensure continuity in the messaging of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, but also heal the gaping wound dealt to the scientific community through conspiracy theories, misinformation, and the proliferation of falsehoods through social media and other influential platforms. Keep the politics out, but bring the science in.
Who better to talk about the safety of the vaccines than Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the lead of the Coronavirus Program for the National Institutes of Health, who was instrumental in developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine; she is already conducting community outreach initiatives to combat the hesitancy so many may feel. Bringing on and supporting scientific experts such as Dr. Corbett will help reduce the misinformation that can oftentimes spread due to the miscommunication between those who know the science and well-intentioned leaders delivering the information.
This is a critical time for communication and understanding. The research has spoken and after more than a year, there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Barbeques and gatherings could be possible this summer but only if we band together as a nation, trust in science, and become effective and empathetic communicators who are open to having hard, fact-based conversations with those who have expressed skepticism or genuine concern about what getting the vaccination will mean to them. The only way we’re getting out of this is together. It’s time to stop fighting against the tide and start riding the waves as a collective.