Throughout this unprecedented pandemic period, the promise of a vaccine provided hope and comfort for the millions of Americans who feared for their health.
However, according to a CNN poll conducted in early October, the number of adults willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine has dropped since May. What is causing people to hesitate on the vaccine, and will the number change as an approved vaccine comes closer to reality?
Willingness to Get Vaccinated Fell From 66% to 50%
Back in May, 66% of adults surveyed said they would be first to line up for a COVID-19 vaccine when it became available. In August, that number dropped to 56%. In October, the percentage fell even further to 51%.
Meanwhile, the number of adults who do not want a vaccine at all grew from 33% to 40%. It’s not surprising that older adults show most interest in a vaccine, while younger adults are hesitant.
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins warned about vaccine hesitancy in September.
“Those who are vaccine hesitant have had their hesitancy enhanced by a variety of things that are happening right now, particularly the unfortunate mix of science and politics,” Collins said at an event hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
“I don’t want to have us, a year from now, having a conversation about how we have in our hands the solution to the worst pandemic of more than 100 years, but we haven’t been able to actually convince people to take charge of it,” Collins said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s preeminent infectious disease expert, echoed Collins. “It’s a combination of how effective a vaccine is and how many people use it,” he said. “If you have a vaccine that is highly effective and not enough people get vaccinated, you’re not going to realize the full, important effect of having a vaccine.”
The First 10 to 15 Million Doses to Frontline Health Workers
Hesitancy and willingness aside, the first 15 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine already have designated recipients: frontline health workers.
“Obviously they are being placed at high risk of infection, because they’re taking care of people who are infected and infectious,” said Ruth Faden, a consultant to the World Health Organization on COVID-19 vaccine guidelines.
But even within the category of front line health workers, many significant questions remain unanswered. Mainly, what defines a frontline health worker? Is it strictly doctors and nurses, or hospital and pharmacy staff who regularly come in close contact with patients? What about emergency medical responders and nursing home workers?
According to preliminary guidelines from the CDC, all of the above are considered frontline health workers, in addition to morticians and funeral home workers who handle COVID-19 victims’ bodies.
There’s no doubt that the initial round of 10 to 15 million doses won’t be enough to vaccinate every frontline health worker in the country. State and local authorities may need to ration distribution by restriction vaccinations to the hardest-hit areas of each state until manufacturing catches up with demand.
Who Comes Next, After Frontline Health Workers?
Once frontline health workers are vaccinated, it’s difficult to identify the second tier of high-risk people who should receive priority. Should the next batch of vaccines be directed to essential workers who keep public transportation and grocery stores running? Or to the elderly or people with preexisting conditions, who are more likely to catch the coronavirus?
The questions are difficult to answer, but experts have hope that manufacturing won’t take long to catch up to demand. “In a reasonable amount of time, if all goes well, we will have enough vaccines for everyone in the country who wants one,” Faden said.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine predicts that it will take about 12-18 months after a vaccine’s approval to achieve consistent availability across the country.