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People wary as new COVID-19 vaccine gets closer to release

Posted at 5:17 PM, Aug 12, 2020

Scientists, doctors and the public are eagerly waiting to hear how effective a COVID-19 vaccine will be and how soon it could be available to everyone. But when the vaccine is ready, some will be racing to be first in line, while others will be cautiously waiting to see how it plays out.

"Only about half of people get a flu vaccination polls are showing. In terms of the coronavirus, that’s saying that a third to maybe as much as half of the population will not want to get a vaccine," said Arthur Evans, the CEO of the American Psychological Association.

Evans is concerned about whether people will be willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it comes out. How people are educated about the upcoming vaccine will be crucial.

"Right now, I think there are a lot of people who want to take a vaccine and to get a vaccine, but if people feel that this has been rushed, that they don’t feel all of the normal safety measures have been taken, it's going to be much harder for people to take that step," explained Evans.

Dr. Bali Pulendran, a pathology, microbiology and immunology professor at Stanford University, says just because a COVID-19 vaccine is being expedited doesn't mean it's any less safe.

"It's a very established, lengthy process. It’s expedited now because of certain technologies such as the mRNA technology that really helps you accelerate this process," said Dr. Pulendran.

He says the creation of a vaccine is rigorously tested, first with mice, then primates, and finally, humans. Tens of thousands of people are currently choosing to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials.

"And so, this is a development and paradigm that has served vaccinology really well. It's really served it well in terms of enabling the licensure of some 20 or more vaccines," said Dr. Pulendran.

Dr. Pulendran says every year, the flu vaccine varies in efficacy. For a good year, it could be 90 percent protective, while the next year, the flu shot may only be 10 percent effective. The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be 60 percent effective.

"I think for me, personally, if I saw a vaccine coming out in the next year or so that had a 60 to 70 percent efficacy, that to me would be very encouraging," said Dr. Pulendran.

The public, though, may still need some convincing.

"One of the hardest things for the general public to embrace is the idea of probability. We like to know definitively if something works or not,” said Evans. “The reality is that a vaccine is a probabilistic issue. It's highly likely that you won’t contract, whatever the condition is, but it’s not 100 percent."

Evans says the key will be in how the vaccine is marketed to the American public.

Dr. Pulendran hopes any positive data and outcomes of the COVID-19 vaccine trial will encourage as many people as possible to get the vaccine when it comes out.