In recent weeks, the world has watched as desperately needed COVID-19 vaccines have begun to reach the public. The UK saw its first vaccinations this week, and the US is likely to see ours in the next few weeks. There are many challenges around new vaccines – research, testing, manufacturing, distribution – that can affect how quickly and effectively mass vaccinations work. But one serious hurdle is not something that can be solved in a lab: building public trust in a new vaccine.
Misinformation around COVID-19, the unprecedented speed by which Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines have been developed and approved, and past abuses against certain communities by the medical industry are all factors contributing to public distrust of and hesitance to receive these new vaccines. A new article in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) outlines the seriousness of this moment and the critical need to reach out to these communities to build back that trust.
“Vaccinations will end the pandemic – not vaccines that stay in a vial,” said article co-author Dr. Kenneth Mayer, Medical Research Director at Fenway Health and Co-Director of The Fenway Institute. “In order to achieve high rates of vaccine acceptance, the people who would benefit most from vaccination need to feel that those who are offering the vaccines have their best interest at heart. This means that investing in communities – ensuring that people have housing, incomes and other key components of a healthy existence – is at the heart of any successful vaccination effort.”
As the article outlines, while science of vaccine development has become faster and more efficient, the “equally important science of community engagement” – the key to creating partnerships with the public to participation in programs like vaccinations – has not seen the same level of advancement.
“Communities of color (i.e., Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities), who remain at highest risk for infection, have been peripheral, not central actors in the pursuit of COVID-19 vaccines,” the abstract notes. “Instead, the tripartite relationship between industry, government, and academia has dominated the research enterprise related to COVID-19.” The success of the COVID-19 vaccines – and the end of this year-long pandemic – will ultimately be in the hands of the public; building and maintaining their trust cannot wait.
The full article, Building Trust in COVID-19 Vaccines and Beyond Through Authentic Community Investment, is available here.