Vaccine Alarmism – The New York Occasions


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If you read this newsletter regularly, you are probably familiar with the idea of ​​vaccination alarmism. It goes something like this:

The coronavirus vaccines are not 100 percent effective. People who have been vaccinated can still be contagious. And the virus variants can make things worse. So don’t change your behavior even if you get a shot.

Much of this message has some basis in truth, but is inherently misleading. Findings so far suggest that a full dose of the vaccine – with the reasonable waiting time after the second shot – is effective at eliminating the risk of death from Covid-19, virtually eliminating the risk of hospitalization, and one person’s ability to move to another infect, drastically decreased. All of this also applies to the new variants of the virus.

Yet the alarmism continues. And now we see the real cost: Many people don’t want to get the vaccine, partly because it sounds so ineffective.

About a third of the members of the U.S. military have turned down vaccination shots. When the first footage became available to nursing home workers in Ohio, about 60 percent said no. Some NBA stars are wary of appearing in advertisements for public services that encourage vaccination.

Nationwide, nearly half of Americans would refuse a shot if it were offered immediately. Vaccine skepticism is even greater among blacks and Hispanics, whites without college degrees, registered Republicans, and lower-income households.

Kate Grabowski, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, told me that she heard from relatives that their friends and co-workers chose not to get a shot because they keep hearing that they can still get Covid and pass it on to others – and you will still need to wear masks and social distance. “What’s the point?” she said, describing her demeanor.

The message from experts, said Grabowski, was “misinterpreted. It’s up to us. We are clearly doing something wrong. “

“Our discussion about vaccines has been bad, really bad,” Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist. “As scientists, we need to be more careful about what we say and how this can be understood by the public.”

Many academic experts – and yes, journalists too – are instinctively skeptical and cautious. This instinct has led the public message about vaccines to highlight the uncertainty and possible bad news in the future.

To give an example, the first research experiments with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines did not investigate whether one person who was vaccinated could become infected and another person could infect. However, the accumulated scientific evidence suggests that the likelihood that one vaccinated person could infect another person with a severe case of Covid is very small. (A mild case is effectively the common cold.) You wouldn’t know that from much of the public debate.

“Again and again I see statements that theoretically you could be infected and spread the virus even if it is fully vaccinated,” Dr. Rebecca Wurtz from the University of Minnesota. “Does ambiguous messaging contribute to ambivalent feelings about vaccinations? Yes-no question.”

Communication has, as Dr. Abraar Karan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said a “somewhat paternalistic” quality. It’s like many experts don’t trust people to understand that vaccines make a tremendous difference and that there are unanswered questions.

As a result, the public messages on the alarmism side are wrong: the vaccine is not a card without Covid!

In their own lives, medical experts – and journalists again – tend to get angry about the vaccines. Many get recordings as soon as they are offered one. They urge their family and friends to do the same. However, when they speak to a national audience, they are conveying a message that is very different. It is dominated by risks, uncertainties, reservations and potential problems. It feeds pre-existing misinformation and anxiety about vaccines.

No wonder its own communities of experts (who are disproportionately white, high-income, and liberal) are less skeptical of vaccines than black, Latino, working-class, and conservative communities.

The availability of vaccines will increase over the next few weeks. However, if a large number of Americans say no to a shot, many will suffer needlessly. “It makes me sad,” Grabowski told me. “We developed this amazing technology and we can save so many lives.”

What should the public message be about the vaccines? “You are safe. They are highly effective against serious diseases. And the emerging evidence of infectivity looks really good, ”said Grabowski. “If you have access to a vaccine and you are authorized, you should get it.”

Virus developments:

  • The number of confirmed deaths from Covid in the US is expected to exceed 500,000 in the next few days.

  • In some states, officials have expanded the availability of vaccine doses by redistributing unused shots from nursing homes and hospitals.

  • The US will help fund a global push to distribute vaccines to low and middle income countries.

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