Between the skeptics and the believers of the coronavirus vaccine
By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
DORAL, FL – In March 2020, life changed in almost every country in the world when the WHO declared the coronavirus disease as a global pandemic. Since then, three questions remain: When will the vaccine come out? Is it the best option we have? And are we willing to get vaccinated?
Answering these questions is not easy for anyone regardless of what side we are on; scientists, parents, survivors of the coronavirus, or victims’ relatives. We are all part of the problem and the solution.
But, it is difficult to know what stand to take on the vaccine when we are barraged with information about this matter daily, much of which confuses and divides a public already overwhelmed by school education, unemployment, or the economic crisis.
It seems there is no consensus in the public’s comments we see daily. This was demonstrated recently with a national Gallup poll shared in early August.
According to the poll, more than a third of Americans would not get the COVID-19 vaccine at the present moment, even if it was free and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, FDA.
There is also no consensus among political leaders and the scientific community even when they pursue the same dream of ending a virus that, as of the closing time of this issue, registered more than 24 million cases worldwide.
The lack of consensus was evident when Russia announced to the world that it had the first COVID-19 vaccine in early August. Although the president revealed his daughter was vaccinated, the World Health Organization expressed doubts regarding its effectiveness because phase 3 had been skipped.
Of course, this is not the only vaccine under development. There are hundreds of vaccines in the world undergoing clinical trials in different phases. The ones that are from Oxford University and AstraZeneca and several from China are taking the lead.
At the local level, the government has provided funds to various companies seeking to develop the vaccine, such as Novavax, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Moderna. It is expected that 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine will be delivered by January 2021.
In Moderna’s case, the company announced on July 27 that it was entering phase 3 of clinical trials in which the Miami Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami is participating.
Amid this scenario, there are arguments both for and against the vaccine, but the decision to get vaccinated or not remains on the citizens. For this reason, we spoke with several of them to learn where they stand.
It should be noted that most of the people we approached were reluctant or refused to express their opinion for fear of exposing themselves on social media and becoming the target of attacks, which speaks of the tense and conflictive atmosphere that we live in today.
Side effects and social responsibility
The main argument put forward by those who are against the vaccine has to do with its effects. In a survey made by this journal on social media, more than 300 comments were posted. The vast majority were against getting the vaccine. Many expressed distrust towards pharmaceutical companies, considering they haven’t had time to study the repercussions.
“I will not get the coronavirus vaccine because I do not trust the speed with which the investigations are being conducted,” said one social media user. “There are vaccines that take 5 to 10 years to study without being approved,” she adds.
Alexandra Bodkin, an insurance agent who lives in Miami-Dade County, agrees with this view and says she will not get the vaccine because she is not certain about its safety. “Some vaccines have ingredients that are harmful to our health, such as mercury and aluminum, and the pharmaceutical manufacturers do not take responsibility for the damage this may cause,” she adds.
Bodkin began having doubts about vaccines in 2008 when she got the flu shot. A week later, the worst cold she has endured in her life, which ended in pneumonia, started developing. She then decided not to vaccinate her daughter against the flu and, oddly, the girl was the only one in her classroom who didn’t fall ill with the disease.
Fidelio Simé has a similar opinion. Although he has never experienced side effects with a vaccine, he believes that right now, companies compete for who launches the COVID-19 vaccine first without really analyzing what this may bring.
“Apart from finding a cure, companies are also trying to make money, because those in the process of developing a vaccine can increase their share price on the stock market, which can result in a higher income than with the vaccine’s sales alone,” he says.
He also thinks that there is also a political interest since the country that releases the vaccine first will have the upper hand. It will be able to put it into circulation faster. “I don’t want to be part of an experiment when I am not sure that all the procedures are followed to protect our health,” he says.
But against these arguments, some people say that the key is to be well informed. Juan Rutilo, journalist and real estate agent, is one of them. Confident that he will get the vaccine once it’s available, he thinks each person is responsible for researching thoroughly before making a decision.
“I would get the vaccine if I feel it has been tested enough to know its possible effects. I would learn from which company comes from, what results it has produced, evidence of effectiveness, and monitor the studies that come out after being put on the market,” says Rutilo.
María Daniela Silva, an internist, and geriatrician with studies in nutrition, who plans to take the vaccine, says that misinformation is doing a lot of harm to the population. “We are in an era in which everyone thinks they are an expert by reading a couple of articles on the Internet, and that is not the case. For this reason, many people attribute to vaccines a series of side effects that are not documented,” says Silva.
Considering this, she advises people to evaluate the pharmaceutical companies that offer the vaccine before making a decision. “Moderna and AstraZeneca are publishing in highly reputable medical journals about their vaccines’ development and production process. I understand there is mistrust towards some companies that want to gain profits, but I don’t think this is the case,” she states.
In this regard, Dr. José Antonio Cisneros, consultant in clinical research projects and specialist in health systems, comments that precisely because of the risk factor is that hundreds of thousands of people are tested before launching a vaccine.
“Most vaccines are about 60 to 70 percent effective. Of course, there is a risk, and people may experience discomfort, irritation, fever, or hives, but I don’t know anyone who has died from a reaction to a vaccine,” explains Dr. Cisneros.
This means that 7 out of 10 vaccinated people will not develop the disease, but three will. “It is expected that of those three who get the disease, they don’t develop severe symptoms.”
On the subject, Dr. María Alcaide, professor of infectious diseases at the Miller School of Medicine of the University of Miami and researcher of the clinical trials carried out by the university on COVID-19 vaccines, states that although, indeed, most vaccines take much longer to be manufactured, there’s an immediate need to mitigate the damage that the coronavirus is doing now.
“The pandemic continues to move on a fast pace, the economy and hospitals are collapsing, and many people are dying around the world. Trying to do the normal process and waiting many years to release the vaccine would only cause bigger damage. Throughout history, nothing has saved more lives than vaccines,” she explains.
Dr. Cisneros agrees with this point of view. His opinion is that a pandemic of this magnitude could only be stopped with a vaccine. “It makes no sense not to get vaccinated because everyone will be infected sooner or later, which is equivalent to be “self-vaccinated,” he says.
Natalia Ribero, who works in a bank’s treasury area, is sure about taking the vaccine even if it means dealing with any possible side effects. She chooses the vaccine over continuing to feel scared of getting sick.
Her fear is justified. She used to think that the coronavirus happened to other people until the disease knocked on her door when three relatives were infected, of which two died.
“Once that happens, your reality regarding the coronavirus changes. I was terrified to think that it could happen to someone like my daughter. It is a social responsibility to get vaccinated because it is not just about you, but about others who may be more vulnerable,” she points out.
She doesn’t believe that young people are immune to the disease or that only affects those with underlying conditions. “My uncle died in a matter of three weeks, and we all thought he was the healthiest. But when he was in the hospital, we found out he had high blood sugar. You can see yourself as a healthy person and later discover you aren’t. Nobody is immune to this disease,” she warns.