Good News About the Coronavirus Vaccine Is Becoming Contagious
Tina Kleinfeldt, a surgical recovery nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, at her home in Levittown, New York, on December 18, 2020. (Sarah Blesener / The New York Times)
Since the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine began last spring, optimistic announcements have been followed by threatening polls: No matter how encouraging the news, more and more people said they would refuse to get the shot.
The timeframe has been speeded up dangerously, many people warned. The vaccine was a Big Pharma scam, others said. A political ploy by the Trump administration that many Democrats accused. The internet pulsed with apocalyptic predictions from longtime vaccine opponents who described the new shot as the epitome of every concern they had ever voiced.
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But in the last few weeks, as the vaccine went from hypothesis to reality, something happened. New polls show attitudes are changing and a clear majority of Americans are now looking to get vaccinated.
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In polls by Gallup, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who say they are likely or certain to take the vaccine now has increased from about 50% this summer to over 60% and in a poll 73% up - A number approaching what some public health experts say would be enough for herd immunity.
Resistance to the vaccine will certainly not go away. Misinformation and dire warnings are growing on social media. At a December 20 meeting, members of an advisory panel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited strong indications that denunciations and vaccine adoption were on the rise, leaving them unable to predict whether the public would gobble up limited supplies or a passport would take.
But the attitude improvement is noticeable. A similar shift in relation to another hot pandemic problem was reflected in another Kaiser poll this month. It found that nearly 75% of Americans now wear masks when they leave their homes.
The change reflects a constellation of recent events: the decoupling of the vaccine from election day; Clinical trial results showing approximately 95% efficacy and relatively low side effects of vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna; and the alarming increase in new coronavirus infections and deaths.
“As soon as it is my turn to get the vaccine, I'll be in the front and in the middle! I'm very excited and hopeful, ”said Joanne Barnes, 68, a retired elementary school teacher from Fairbanks, Alaska who told the New York Times last summer that she would not get it.
What changed your mind? "The Biden government got back to listening to the science and the fantastic statistics associated with vaccines," she replied.
The temptation of the modest quantities of vaccines should not be underestimated as a driver of desire, much like the madness that a Christmas present in a limited edition evokes according to experts of the public opinion.
This feeling is also evident in the shift in some skepticism. Instead of just targeting the vaccine itself, eyebrows are raised across the political spectrum to see who gets it first - which rich people and celebrities, populations or industries?
But the dire reality of the pandemic - with more than 200,000 new cases and around 3,000 deaths daily - and the dissatisfaction with this holiday season are perhaps among the biggest factors.
"More people are affected or infected by COVID," said Rupali Limaye, an expert on vaccination behavior at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "You know someone who has had a serious case or has died."
Limaye concluded, "You are tired and want to go back to your normal life."
A flurry of feel-good media reports, including the tense attention of senior scientists and politicians when bumped into them and the scramble for local health workers to be the first to be vaccinated, has added to the excitement, public opinion experts say.
There are still significant differences between the population groups. The gap between women and men is large, with women being more reluctant. Black people remain the most skeptical racial group, although adoption is growing: in September, a poll by Pew Research found only 32% of blacks were willing to receive the vaccine, while the latest poll shows an increase to 42%. And while people of all political beliefs are warming to the vaccine, more Republicans than Democrats are suspicious of the shot.
The relationship between attitudes towards the vaccine and political affiliation is of concern to many behavioral experts, who fear that vaccine uptake will become tied to partisan views and hamper the achievement of broad immunity.
"We've seen growth among both Democrats and Republicans in terms of their vaccine intent," said Matthew Motta, a political scientist at Oklahoma State University who studies political opinions and vaccine views. "But it's twice the size of Democrats," he added, who soured the vaccine after President Donald Trump confessed it would arrive by election day.
A better indication is that two-thirds of the public are at least reasonably confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be distributed fairly, up from 52% in September.
The strongest nests of resistance are rural dwellers and people between 30 and 49 years of age.
Timothy Callaghan, a scientist at the Southwest Rural Health Research Center at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, said rural dwellers are more conservative and Republican, which is also noticeable among vaccine reluctants. This includes immigrants and day laborers, many of whom have neither college degrees nor high school diplomas and may therefore be more cautious about vaccines.
"They seem less likely to wear masks, work less from home, and there is resistance to evidence-based practices," Callaghan said.
The resistance also springs from their disabled access to health care in remote areas. The need to take hours of work away from the inflexible demands of agriculture for travel and recovery from vaccine side effects makes the footage even less convincing, he added.
According to the Kaiser survey, around 35% of adults between 30 and 49 were skeptical about the vaccine. Dr. Scott Ratzan, whose vaccine surveys in New York at the New York University Graduate School of Public Health are showing similar results to national surveys, found that this group is also not keeping up with flu shots. They are way outside the age range for routine vaccines.
"There is no normalization or habit for this age group to get vaccinated," he said.
Black people are still the most resistant to taking a coronavirus vaccine, largely due to a history of abusive research by white doctors. But their willingness to think about it increases. In the Kaiser survey, the proportion of black respondents who believe that the vaccine is being distributed fairly has almost doubled from 32% to 62%.
Mike Brown, who is Black, runs Shop Spa, a large barber shop serving a Black and Latino clientele in Hyattsville, Maryland. This summer, he told The Times that he'd love to sit back and watch others get the vaccine while he took his time.
That was then.
"The news it was 95% effective sold me," said Brown. “The side effects sound like what you get after a bad night of drinking and hurt the next day. Well I've had a lot of these and I can use them to get rid of the face masks. "
However, many customers remain skeptical. He tells them, "What questions do you have that you are suspicious of? Just do your investigation and follow the science! Because if you only talk about what you don't, you become part of the problem."
He sees progress. "Some people who were more militant about not taking it are calmer now," he said. "The seeds are being planted."
Another group that was unsure about taking the vaccine is health care workers, who typically have high levels of acceptance for established vaccines. In the past few weeks, some hospital managers have said that many of their employees are cringing. ProPublica reported that a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, had to offer some allocated doses to other medical professionals in the area because not enough of its own workers came forward. A deputy sheriff and a senator lined up.
However, other hospitals say staff time windows for the vaccine are becoming a coveted commodity.
For months, Tina Kleinfeldt, a surgical recovery nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, a hospital on the Northwell Health Network, had absolutely no intention of receiving the vaccine until long after the science and side effects were determined.
Last week she was offered a rare vaccination spot by chance. Despite admonitions from envious colleagues, she still refused.
Then she began to think of all the COVID-19 patients she had cared for and the new ones she would inevitably encounter. She thought of her husband and three children. She thought: Well, I can always cancel the appointment at the last minute, right?
Then she found that the cans were still so short that she might not get another chance soon. So she said yes. She was the first nurse in her unit to get the shot.
After that, she felt sore muscles at the injection site. But she also felt excited, excited, and relieved.
"I felt that I had done something good for myself, my family, my patients and the world," said Kleinfeldt. “And now I hope everyone gets it. Is not that crazy? "
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
© 2020 The New York Times Company
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