By Isaac Jonas
COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a discussion around the efficacy of vaccines globally. The main concerns relate to the safety of the vaccine clinical trials and the potential side effects of vaccines. Hence, a lot of interest groups such as governments and nonprofits have been doing work to promote the uptake of vaccines and dispel these fears. While the mRNA technology used to develop COVID-19 vaccines has been in development for decades through research, there has been a long-standing divide between those who support taking vaccines and those who do not. In Canada and the United States, this critical discussion has even spilled into political discussions. However, history and scientific evidence show that the public perception and tolerance of vaccines risks has been ongoing for some time (Kimmel, 2002).
Regardless, vaccines have one of the greatest achievements in the history of science and medicine and immunizations saving millions of lives globally including helping complications from communicable diseases (Clift & Rizzolo, 2014), the vaccine question remains as of public interest. The current death toll due to the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have been higher had governments around the world not united to develop vaccines to inoculate the most vulnerable people. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed this assertion and has even projected that immunizations save 2 to 3 million people annually from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, pertussis, and influenza over the past.
But despite the proven effectiveness of immunizations, lots of questioning on the usefulness and safety of vaccines has become a discussion point and, in some cases, even causing some people to be vaccine-hesitant (Clift & Rizzolo, 2014). Past studies have shown that most parents support the immunization of their children (Gellin et al., 2000; Chung-Delgado et al., 2021). Those who refuse to have their kids vaccinated incorrectly believe that too many immunizations could weaken their child’s immune system (Gellin et al., 2000). Parents have a right to accept and or reject taking vaccines.
However, the fact of the matter is that every other medicine, vaccines have to follow clearly laid down guidelines by experts and health authorities. In Canada, that mandate falls under Health Canada. Thus, every vaccine that is to be developed has to be registered after large and solid clinical trials have been conducted (Signorelli, 2015). This is important to ensure that accurate information is shared with the public and to help mitigate vaccine hesitancy. Also, authorities and experts are entrusted with this mandate rather than people who don’t have the expertise on medical and epidemiological issues.
The relatively lower COVID-19 vaccine update in some countries such as the United States has been attributed to some misinformation about the vaccine developments and the ambiguity in the medium to long term efficacy of the technology which is yet to be seen. In Canada, Health Canada has approved three vaccines against COVID-19. The four approved vaccines in Canada include AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech.
In addition, the vaccines and immunization schedules are planned by experts in the field of clinical medicine, epidemiology, and public health on the basis of the available scientific evidence, and then implemented by policymakers also taking into consideration resources allocation and financial sustainability (Signorelli, 2015).
In conclusion, the false myth that vaccines are offered because of economic interests can be dispelled by the health authorities being transparent (Signorelli, 2015), on how the vaccine trials are conducted and sharing the results of the trials with the public. It is also important to note that, in the absence of a direct threat from disease, some people may choose to forego vaccination unless absolute safety can be guaranteed (Signorelli, 2015). In addition, despite the fact that absolute vaccine safety is an idealistic goal for health authorities, it is difficult to achieve in the real world (Signorelli, 2015). Hence, sharing accurate information is key to closing in the gap between the truth about vaccines and the conspiracy theories that thrive mostly in the absence of data on the vaccines. Another important point is that vaccines have side effects which should be shared with all patients so that they are aware of them. The most common side effects of vaccines to people include pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site (Signorelli, 2015). Systemic reactions, including fever, irritability, drowsiness, and rash, may also occur (Signorelli, 2015), as has been shown with COVID-19 vaccines lately.
Also, it goes without stating that some fears surrounding the vaccines themselves may emanate from vaccination requirements, alleged government cover-ups of vaccine harms, and case in point is in the European Union with the formation of a new “vaccine safety” commission with vocal vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at its head (Wessel, 2017). Such issues may cause people to question the integrity of the whole vaccines development and administrative process and cast doubts into their uptake.
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