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Our opinion: Vaccination battle may loom

When a COVID-19 vaccine is ready, will you take it?

A recent Associated Press poll doesn’t paint a promising picture. Roughly half of Americans polled are willing to get the vaccine. Another 31% said they aren’t sure if they will take the vaccine and another 20% said they will refuse a vaccine.

That should frighten those struggling through the past two months of economic shutdown and closure of any type of gathering place.

There are several possible COVID-19 vaccines entering clinical trials, including some being developed by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and there is hope that a vaccine could be approved and ready for use early in 2021. But what good does the vaccine do if only half of the population takes it?

Dr. William Klimstra, a UPMC Center for Vaccine Research doctor, said recently he hopes people will change their minds regarding the vaccines.

He said the poll reflects a challenge to long-accepted social norms regarding vaccines, though Klimstra said those challenges have been disproven by the very science that people are looking toward to solve the COVID-19 problem.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “We’re in an environment right now where longstanding accepted truths are being challenged through social media and other things. It’s very difficult to fight that kind of stuff. I’ve read a lot of the anti-vaccine literature and things that are on the Internet and people seem to feel that ‘Big Pharma’ is promoting these things and then scientists, because they get grants, have been compromised to ‘Big Pharma.’ But what I would say directly is I advocate vaccines. They are clearly shown to be safe in multiple studies. … You have to accept when you have essentially universal consensus among people who should know about something that, in this case, vaccines are safe. I’m not saying there aren’t occasionally adverse reactions to vaccines. Every medical procedure that people take has some risk associated with it. It’s just vanishingly small with vaccines and the link to autism are just not held up by science.”

We know that policy makers need to be ready for a possible second wave of COVID-19 infections in the fall, including ways to limit exposure without simply closing down life as we all know it. Policy makers and the medical establishment also need to start now educating people about the need to take a COVID-19 vaccine when one is ready. The last two months have been a nightmare. A vaccine can keep us from living through that nightmare again — but only if more than half the population actually takes it.

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