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Covid-19 vaccines: Getting doubters to roll up their sleeves will not be easy

Florida volunteers participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials

Photographer: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Eddie Rice is a believer in vaccines. The Melbourne locksmith has previously received jabs and understands that they undergo rigorous testing before being rolled out. This time, as scientists sprint with potential shots to protect the world from Covid-1

9, he is not so sure.

“This is pretty unique just because it’s going to be so fast,” said Rice, 29. “I do not know enough of science to know 100% that it is safe.”

Governments and drug manufacturers have long been subject to skepticism and even hostility from a small but vocal group of anti-vaccination campaigns. In the fight against coronavirus, they may also be reluctant to reach a wider section of the population – people like rice who would normally be on board.

Fading trust in governments, political interference and the idea of ​​creating a shot in record time are questionable. Temporary interruptions of studies due to unexplained diseases in volunteers – part of the vaccine development that does not usually make headlines – add to the anxiety. These concerns could hamper the high-stakes search to curb a pathogen that has killed 1.1 million people.

Provided that vaccinations can be successfully developed, mass-produced and implemented, vaccine advocates must be convinced enough that the shots are the key to ending the crisis. In a survey of 20,000 people conducted over the summer, more than a quarter of those surveyed said they would not get a Covid shot. Russia, Poland, Hungary and France had the lowest support, the World Economic Forum and the Ipsos survey showed.

Sample after registration of RDIFs 'Sputnik V' COVID-19 vaccine

A heath worker injects a patient with a Covid-19 vaccine during experiments in Moscow.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov / Bloomberg

Efforts to overcome this mood are starting with health workers. Medical personnel are at increased risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others and are likely to be among the first to be vaccinated. Any concerns they have about the quality of a vaccine may hamper wider acceptance.

Their support must not be taken for granted either. Medical workers would be careful not to damage the trust they have earned by promoting a product they do not trust, he said. Sara Gorton, Head of Health at Unison, a UK-based union representing nurses, paramedics and others in the field.

“If healthcare professionals are expected to advocate the vaccine, their natural concerns must be addressed in advance,” she said. “It won’t help with recording if you go to get your jab and the person giving it to you is not able to say reassuring things.”

A survey in Hong Kong earlier this year showed that only 63% of nurses expressed a willingness to get a potential Covid shot. It cited uncertainty about efficacy, side effects and how long the protection would last. Support was higher as cases rose but slipped as infections ebbed, according to researchers, including Kin On Kwok, an epidemiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

If less than two-thirds of nurses during an outbreak intend to be vaccinated, “we expect it will be much more challenging to promote the vaccine to the public in the post-pandemic period,” they wrote.

Anxiety about China’s growing influence in the former British colony may be another factor behind the lack of conviction. A mainland-sponsored effort that offered free tests to all Hong Kong residents so that only a quarter of them show up. Chinese vaccine developers have spearheaded the race. Although the final phase of trials has not been completed, thousands in China have already received doses under expansive emergency use regulations.

One of the biggest concerns among skeptics is that critical steps to demonstrate safety and effectiveness could be carried out in a hurry, despite assurances – as promised in September by nine US and European developers – to avoid shortcuts to science.

Vaccines led by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. are among those in the final phase of the tests, and important data may come before the end of the year, paving the way for emergency approvals. This achievement would be achieved by compressing a development process that usually takes up to a decade, to only months. Public confidence in vaccines that have not been thoroughly tested could be low, according to analysts at HSBC Holdings Plc.

The pursuit of a Covid shot has become more and more politicized, reducing the number of people likely to get one, according to Scott Ratzan, a physician and public health specialist at City University of New York. Officials will have to demonstrate why an immunization that has been proven safe is beneficial to individuals and communities, he said.

Among the majority of the public, vaccines are embraced as safe and straightforward ways to prevent disease, but concerns about a Covid shot have escalated in recent months. Americans’ willingness to be vaccinated against the virus fell to 50% in September from 66% in July, a Gallup poll shows.

“Most people support vaccines,” said Ratzan, who is part of a group working to increase confidence in future Covid vaccinations. “We have to find the fence. Do they hesitate? Are they insecure? How do we throw them up? ”

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