I was surprised the other day while rounding on patients in the hospital that two of my fellow interns stated that they would opt out of the COVID-19 vaccine. They were afraid that it was not tested enough to guarantee there would not be long term consequences for them.
They represent millions of Americans who feel the same way. We don’t know the future. I asked them what they knew about the new vaccine and the studies supporting it. I was surprised that they seemed to know almost nothing about it.
It occured to me then that I was probably weird. If my colleagues were making uninformed decisions about whether to get the vaccine, likely most other Americans were too. Whether to get or not to get the vaccine, the main driver is likely fear.
I read in the NY Times that nearly 72% of certified nurses assistants (CNA) surveyed in long term care facilities did not want to get the vaccine, even though the residents of these facilities (their patients) are at high risk of death if the CNA spreads the virus. Members of my family who are at extremely high risk of dying of COVID have told me they won’t get vaccinated. COVID-19 according to them is a hoax: a bad cold or at worse a mild case of the flu.
Like the doctors who could not support their decision with facts, most people who need to be vaccinated and decline the vaccine are either uninformed, misinformed, or have beliefs that are demonstrably false. Misinformation about the vaccine has been rampant and it’s not just the radical right and science deniers. My far left friends are just as likely to see the vaccine as a conspiracy.
Although the first vaccine authorized for emergency use by the FDA was thoroughly tested in tens of thousands of people for safety and efficacy, a thick cloud hangs over it and the other vaccines that will be released soon. No amount or quality of facts are likely to change people’s minds.
I asked the other interns, “But what about your patients? If not for yourself, then why not for them?” A few days later, they both decided to get vaccinated. I didn’t ask them why they changed their minds.
I’m not writing this to change anyone’s mind. I have engaged with the conspiracy theorists and science deniers on social media, and it is pointless… but maybe those on the fence can be convinced, not with facts, but by thinking of someone besides themselves.