When the first Covid-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use in December, many doctors and healthcare providers eagerly volunteered to get vaccinated, often publicly. But for vaccines to achieve their full impact, Americans will need to embrace them with a comparable fervor.
“Vaccinations won’t stop the pandemic unless there is widespread adoption,” said Dr. Benson Hsu, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine. Hsu, who practices in the pediatric intensive care unit, felt a sense of relief getting vaccinated, knowing he was protecting himself and his family. He also felt vaccinations “may be the beginning of the end.”
For Dr. SreyRam Kuy, Covid-19 vaccines have come after a grueling ordeal that felt like it would never end, especially as cases began surging again in the fall.
“We are exhausted,” Kuy said. “How much more of this can we take?”
Kuy, assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and former chief medical officer for Louisiana Medicaid, has seen her colleagues and trainees work tirelessly on the front lines during the pandemic. Some of her colleagues have died.
When Kuy got vaccinated in mid-December, she felt joy and gratitude. “I’ve seen so much courage, compassion, and ingenuity that inspires me,” Kuy said. “I feel hopeful about our future.”
For Kuy’s hopes to become reality, President-elect Joe Biden will need to deliver on his promise to pick up the pace on slower-than-promised vaccination distribution. Doctors and public health professionals will also need to overcome misinformation and conspiracy theories that threaten to stymie the rollout even after logistics improve.
Though public acceptance of Covid-19 vaccines is on the rise, even people who intend to get vaccinated have questions. Addressing consumer concerns will be key to the vaccines’ success.
How safe are Covid-19 vaccines?
Consumers often question whether Covid-19 vaccines are safe, especially given how quickly they were developed.
Dr. Brad Younggren, emergency physician and chief medical officer at 98point6, has sought to allay fears about the speed of vaccine development and shed light on the process for determining vaccine safety.
“We know, from decades of experience in vaccine development, that the most dangerous side effects of vaccines declare themselves within about six to eight weeks of being administered,” Younggren said.
If participants had experienced serious side effects, the trials would have been paused and the issues investigated. If the vaccine was determined unsafe, the trial would not move forward.
But Covid-19 vaccine trials have been monitored by independent experts who found no serious side effects, according to Younggren.
Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine physician at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, thinks the choice to get vaccinated is simple when you weigh the absence of adverse effects of the vaccines with “well-documented devastating effects” of Covid-19, even in young people.
“It is so much riskier to not get vaccinated,” Olulade said.
Will the Covid-19 vaccines be safe for kids?
Tami Smith, a women’s health and fitness entrepreneur from Williamstown, Massachusetts, is not eager to get a Covid-19 vaccine, but she will if it means her kids can go to school and participate in normal activities.
“After the shutdowns in the spring, I realized how valuable attending school is, both for my children’s development and for my ability to work—and my sanity if I’m being honest,” Smith said.
But are Covid-19 vaccines safe for kids?
“Unfortunately, not much is known about these vaccines in the pediatric population,” Hsu said. “Kids are very different in their responses to medications and vaccinations so existing adult data cannot be directly translated.”
So far, only a limited number of pediatric patients have been enrolled in Covid-19 vaccine studies, according to Hsu. “Only with more data can we fully understand safety, efficacy, and side effect profiles of Covid-19 vaccines on the pediatric population.”
How well will Covid-19 vaccines work?
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both have high efficacy—95% and 94.5%, respectively—and both are reported effective among patients 65 and older who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, according to Kuy. In comparison, Kuy said, the flu vaccine is typically 40% to 60% effective.
How long will immunity last?
There are two types of immunity: natural immunity from having the infection and vaccine-induced immunity. According to Kuy, we don’t yet know how long either type of immunity lasts; early data suggests natural immunity may not last very long and the vaccine is too new to know how long it will protect people.
No matter how long immunity lasts, Kuy supports vaccinations.
“As a frontline physician who cares for Covid-19 patients, as well as patients with metastatic cancer, elderly, diabetics, asthmatics, and other patients at risk for severe illness from Covid-19, I’ve seen how important it is to do everything we can to mitigate risk for vulnerable patients,” she said. “Vaccination is a key part of protecting these populations.”
Will consumers get to choose which vaccine to take?
Though Younggren said consumers will be compare different vaccine options, distribution complexities and limited supplies—at least initially—make it unlikely that people will have a choice of Covid-19 vaccines.
“My advice is this: take whichever vaccine becomes available at the time that you are deemed eligible for it,” Younggren said. “That way, you will be vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Though more Covid-19 vaccines may be on the way, the vaccines currently available are “remarkably similar,” according to Younggren. “I can’t really see a downside to taking either one.”