In Our Opinion: Local education is a key to COVID-19 vaccination success

The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain tiny microchips, it won’t infect you with the virus, it won’t ruin your DNA and it won’t turn you into a socialist, zombie or socialist zombie.

Such misinformation about the emerging vaccines swirling across the county has become so rampant that Facebook is taking the nearly unprecedented step of removing false posts.

The trouble is that even many rational people who don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories have serious doubts about getting the shots.

A new Pew Research Center survey found that only 51 percent of adults in the U.S. say they are willing to take a coronavirus vaccine.

The mistrust runs even higher in communities of color, which have been disproportionately harmed by the virus.

Just under 60 percent of Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record readers who answered an online poll said they will get the vaccination when it becomes available.

People told pollsters they are concerned about the safety of the vaccine given the accelerated timeline for the trials, as well as attempts by President Donald Trump and his aides to interfere in the process. The fear was stoked when the Centers for Disease Control falsely claimed the vaccine would be ready a couple of days before the election and when the White House threatened to reverse tougher vaccine safety guidelines put forward by the FDA.

This is very bad news. Life cannot return to any semblance of normalcy until herd immunity is reached, which scientists say will happen when 70 percent of the population has been immunized.

The Yale Institute of Good Health recommends that leaders begin dealing with the problem now. The best tool are the facts. The head of the institute, for example, recently explained how the vaccines were able to be developed in such a compressed timeline. The key was “process efficiencies” rather than cutting safety corners or skipping steps.

That means different phases of testing occurred concurrently.

Animal trials, for example, occurred at the same time as human studies. Phase 3 trial timelines were accelerated by drastically increasing the number of test subjects, instead of having few subjects tested over a longer period of time.

There’s also the matter of simple risk assessment. The dangers in getting COVID are much, much higher than any potential danger from a vaccination.

The institute recommends a national communication and education campaign and notes CARES Act doesn’t include enough money for vaccine distribution — let alone education. Bipartisan support from national political leaders would help, although a survey shows people are much more likely to trust an endorsement from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Even more trusted are family doctors.

WhidbeyHealth physicians, hospital officials and county officials have been working with a wide range of stakeholders for months on vaccine distribution planning. Now that the infrastructure is in place, hopefully they will focus on education. Leveraging support from local doctors for this effort may be the key to success.

Dr. Nicholas Perera, medical director of the emergency department and chief of medicine, said he looks forward to getting the vaccine.

“I don’t mind being one of the first people to get it,” he said, “especially if it will help convince friends and neighbors that it’s safe.”

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